The Chimney Tree
In 1935, a young Jewish girl enters into an unfortunate relationship with a local boy in a rural town in Poland. They secretly meet at a hollowed-out tree referred to as the Chimney Tree. And thus begins the story of Miriam that will continue across a World War, three continents, and 36 years. Disgraced in the eyes of her family and her community when her liaison is discovered, Miriam is hastily married off to a Hasidic scholar from a remote village. Fleeing her new husband’s insanity and viciousness, she makes her way to Warsaw, where she eventually finds happiness in the form of a beloved husband and child. The grim realities of war intrude, and a pregnant Miriam is separated from her new family. To tell any more of the story would spoil the discovery of the reader, but the events related here make up less than the first half of the novel.
The author, who heard many stories from Holocaust survivors and their children while she was growing up, has crafted a compelling story with the ring of authenticity and a wealth of historical detail. Unfortunately, her writing, while sufficient to the task, contains a distance between the storyteller and the story, which repeatedly lessens the emotional impact of the events. It is a major flaw in a novel which is otherwise compelling both in story and in sense of place. The novel takes the characters not only into Poland during the war, but also into the Jewish communities of Russia, Brooklyn (New York), and in the promised land of Israel. Originally published in 2000 by the University Press of Colorado, this edition was substantially revised by the author, who also expanded the ending.