The Tree of Heaven Needs Pruning

Ash tree in autumn against blue sky
A tree of heaven in autumn

The Tree of Heaven, May Sinclair’s 1918 bestseller, just misses being a great book.

The Harrisons are raising their four children in an English home whose backyard is dominated by a tree Frances calls by the country folks’ name Tree of Heaven and her timber-dealer husband calls an ash.

Frances’ life is wrapped up in her three sons; daughter Dorothy doesn’t interest her much.

The book follows the family from the late 1890s up to the First World War. In ways peculiar to their own personalities, the children seek to establish their own identifies.

All four instinctively back away from the vortex, the homogenizing crowd behavior that flings off morality as it spirals downward, looking instead for a firmly rooted principles that will endure. They want a personal, moral Tree of Heaven.

Sinclair’s characters are cleanly drawn, the plot gives a sense of inevitability. Readers get a fascinating glimpse into the family life of a decent, well-off household who earn their livelihood and have no aspirations to power and prestige.

Sinclair explores parent-child relationships, the origin of patriotism, the extent of self-deception, the clash of the prosaic and imaginative.

Real life has room for all those philosophical threads, a novel does not.

The Tree of Heaven
by May Sinclair
Macmillian, 1917
408 pages
1918 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg ebook #13883
My Grade: B+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Swedish Autumn Colours 2” by Marmit

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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