The Singing Forest

Written by Judith McCormack
Review by Shauna McIntyre

A child growing up in desperate poverty in Belarus and experiencing violence and neglect at every turn must learn to navigate his way through a changing world. Never shown any kindness, he sees power and cruelty as a means of survival. At the age of 90, he is living in Toronto when a new discovery in the forests of his homeland threaten to disrupt his peaceful retirement. His decades-old involvement with Stalin’s secret police triggers a trial meant to prove his guilt and send him back to a country that never felt like home.

Leah Jarvis, a young lawyer still living with the remnants of a chaotic childhood, is tasked with finding evidence to support the deportation of Stefan Drozd. Juggling her own struggles and the growing pressure to produce first-hand accounts of the brutal acts committed by Drozd, she travels to Belarus to seek answers. What she finds is both horrifying and murky which puts the entire trial in jeopardy. Both characters experience repeat traumas that bring complex moral dilemmas into sharp focus.

The narrative weaves together Stefan Drozd’s life in Belarus with the present-day life of Leah Jarvis. The dreamlike quality of the present-day narrative is somewhat challenging to follow and leaves doubt as to the reliability of the narrator, which I do not believe was intentional. Filled with beautiful sentences like “Strands of DNA sliding down an ancestral ladder,” this novel is worth the effort it takes to wade through the stream-of-consciousness sections.