The Tulip Tree

Written by Suzanne McCourt
Review by Fiona Alison

The Tulip Tree is a complex family saga, taking readers through a volatile sweep of time in an ever-changing Poland from 1920 to 1954: a Poland rife with invasion, war, violence, pogroms, and the extermination of Jews. Henryk and Adi Radecki are brothers who couldn’t be less alike. Henryk is a successful industrialist until WWII, when he is arrested on a number of occasions. His dream in life is to build bridges, but munitions is what he is forced into. Adi is a veterinarian, a sentimental man who dislikes his brother’s love of hunting. After his first wife’s suicide in Siberia, he takes his son to Moscow to seek repatriation into Poland, which is denied. Fortuitously, he meets his estranged brother, who succeeds where Adi cannot. Once in Poland, Adi marries Ela, a woman considerably younger than himself, and they have a daughter and a son. Henryk isn’t so lucky, he’s unhappy in his marriage to Lucia and covets Ela, as he had Adi’s first wife. The rivalry between the brothers is exacerbated by Lucia’s jealousy over her failure to have more children. Although happily married, Adi often disappears for days at a time, leaving Ela to wonder where he goes and what he does. Turning to Henryk for consolation has far-reaching consequences for Ela.

McCourt writes with transparent honesty, taking us deeply inside her characters’ lives and those of their children as they grow up in a country under occupation. Her passion for her story shows in the everyday ordinariness of events as well as the horrors. Although the brothers form the story’s framework, this is mainly Ela and her son Stefan’s tale. The Tulip Tree is vivid storytelling at its best, atmospheric, and engrossing: a powerful and compelling read from beginning to end, and one readers will not soon forget.