The Gospel of Trees

Apricot Irving's parents were farmers in California when they decided to be missionaries and move with their three young daughters to the north of Haiti. Over nine years, her father planted trees to combat deforestation. As he committed himself to the country and his own goals of saving it, he grew more distant from his family--eventually violent--and more resentful of their privilege and status as outsiders. While they had been poor for California and lived in a cabin without an indoor toilet, in Haiti they were treated as foreign dignitaries, a startling shift. They were also demoralized by the failures of their humanitarian projects, and the knowledge that even if they succeeded, their actions would never be enough to help everyone.

Set against a history of colonialism and political unrest, Irving presents a nuanced look at her childhood and the place where she spent it, both of which are too complex for her to describe easily. "The missionaries I grew up with were neither marauders nor saints; Haiti was neither savage nor noble," she writes. "The truth was far more complicated." She paints these contradictions thoughtfully, and while she both loved and hated living there when she was young, it formed who she is as an adult. With evocative prose and electrifying scenes, The Gospel of Trees shows how a woman reconciles the pain and beauty of the religion, family and country she was exposed to as a girl. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer, bookseller and publicist

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