The Crying Tree
Naseem RakhaIrene Stanley thought her world had come to an end when her 15-year-old son, Shep, was murdered in a robbery at their Oregon home. Daniel Robbin, who had spent his teenage years in and out of trouble, gave himself up to the police and was imprisoned in the State Penitentiary. Now, eighteen years later, Robbin is placed on Death Row awaiting a date for his execution. Irene's husband, Nate, has demons from the past of his own which he needs to face, and Shep's sister, Bliss, quickly learns that she too has a part to play in the healing of her family shattered by the tragedy. Irene, having reached the brink of suicide, comes to the realization that to survive she needs to overcome her grief and her hate for Robbin, and that she must face the secrets that she suspects surround Shep's murder. She turns full circle, defying both her family and the church, and finds that she is not only capable of forgiveness for the man who murdered her son, but also she comes to terms with understanding much more about events that happened that fateful afternoon back in Carlton. And perhaps the most painful realization of all, how little they as a family understood Shep. 'For anyone who has ever wondered how forgiveness is possible, even when the pain is overwhelming, wonder no more. "The Crying Tree" takes you on a journey you won't soon forget' - Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking".
The clue may be in the title but if The Crying Tree doesn’t bring you to tears, you have better control over your blubbing than I do.
This is an astonishing debut novel by Naseem Rakha. The principal planks of the plot are straightforward enough: a gentle, musically gifted 15 year old boy, Shep, is shot at the family home in Oregon by a drifter.
Shep’s father arrives to find his son dying and despite battlefield training from his days in Vietnam, and more recent experience as a police officer, there is nothing he can do to stop the boy’s life ebbing away.
The tragedy paralyses the family’s lives. Shep’s mother, Irene, retreats into a cauldron of hatred for the killer, who quickly turns himself in and is given the state’s harshest sentence: death by lethal injection. Shep’s parents and sister sink into a dreadful limbo, waiting for the sentence to be carried out. It is the only thing they believe will bring them healing, and allow them to move on with their lives.
It is a long wait. Only now, 19 years after the murder, all legal processes exhausted, is the execution finally at hand. But one person is prepared to make a last effort to save the killer’s life. Shep’s mother.
Her reasons, and the impact on her family, make for an utterly absorbing, rollercoaster read. The ethics of the state choosing to take a life for a life are compellingly dissected, and the pain of losing a beloved child is hauntingly described. What a start for a new writer.
If you enjoy reading Jodie Picoult, you’ll enjoy reading Naseem Rakha, and this is her first novel, for heaven’s sake.
These are big themes for a new writer but Rakha knows what she’s doing. Without any obvious hints or nods, she communicates almost from the off that everything we think we know about Shep’s murder is wrong.
His policeman father may be genuinely distraught that he couldn’t save his son, but he is holding something back about what happened on the day of the shooting.
The killer, Daniel Robbin, who was a troubled 19 year old when the tragedy happened, is now a thoughtful 38 year old and something of an enigma.
He welcomes the fact that his long-delayed appointment in the death chamber is just a few days away, but we gradually realise that he too is keeping information back.
When Shep’s mother is told the date for the execution has been set, she realises to her horror and despair that killing Daniel won’t solve a thing, and that forgiveness is her only way of coming to terms with the tragedy.
The final countdown on Death Row is grippingly conveyed, and some very deep questions are addressed by Rakha. The Crying Tree is, quite simply, a terrific story.
Naseem Rakha talks to Richard and Judy
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