“. . . deserves a bright spotlight on the literary stage . . .”
Seventeen-year-old Christine Bolz works as a domestic for the Bauermans in a small German Village.
Christine and the Bauerman’s son, Isaac, have just revealed their love for one another when the world is turned upside down. It is 1938. Christine and her mother are banned from working for the Jewish family. Everyone is threatened, suspected or arrested by the Nazi regime. How do Christine, Isaac and their families fare when the worst that can happen happens?
Author Ellen Marie Wiseman’s provocative and realistic images of a small German village are exquisite. One can almost taste, smell, and see the surroundings and hear the voices of the characters as they speak to one another and to themselves.
When Christine is told she can no longer see Isaac, her reactions are described as, “Now, the sparse room reflected the way she felt, bone-cold and empty as a cave, the cool drafts of the coming winter already making their way through the invisible crevices in the fieldstone and mortar walls and the undetectable cracks in the thick, dry timber.”
After experiencing extreme desolation and deprivation, Christine’s senses are overwhelmed. “It surprised her, and she had to catch her breath before she choked on the joy of something so simple and delicious.”
Everything is out of control. Christine is soon faced with life and death decisions on a daily basis. What she decides to do (or not do) has rippling effects on everyone she cares for. In some respects, as is often true in war; even the illusion of choice and routine provides a sense of comfort and solace.
Christine makes the mental note about her mother. “But she knew why her mother had gotten up. Her household was the one thing she could control… the only way she knew how to deal with her unpredictable life.” The Plum Tree is itself, graciously laced with uncertainty and an air of unknowing what will befall the families and who will or will not survive (physically and/or emotionally).
There are portions of this novel that will remind readers’ of Schindler’s List, the difference being that few in this story are saved. There are no heroes, only survivors.
Although nothing is held back in chronicling the gruesomeness of the Holocaust, the bombing of Germany, and the suffering that millions endured, The Plum Tree also exudes a sense of faith in one’s family, truth and humanity.
Its attention to historical detail is to be appreciated, yet these details do not trump the core of the tale, which is both a story about enduring love and the suffering unleashed by Hitler’s mania.
The Plum Tree will find good company on the literal or electronic shelves of those who appreciated Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, and Night by Elie Wiesel. Though in the same picture frame as these great classics, Ms. Wiseman’s story stands firmly on its own two feet and deserves a bright spotlight on the literary stage.