THE TREE STILL STANDS by Mae Briskin

THE TREE STILL STANDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

First novel from Briskin, author of the PEN award-winning fiction collection A Boy Like Astrid's Mother (1988): based on actual lives and events, the somewhat mechanically rendered but gripping story of a Polish family's flight from the Nazis. The Levy family is late to uproot themselves from their comfortable home in Warsaw, but, driven by dramatically intensifying anti-Jewish persecutions, they at last flee for safety (in 1939) to Paris. There, however, security is short-lived, and this family of two parents, a grandmother, and five children--as well as an adoptive teen-aged son and a new baby boy whose birth-year is 1940--are forced to escape for their lives through Vichy France to the south and then on to temporarily Italian-protected Nice. Two of the older boys stay behind to work in the French resistance, but the tribulations and hair's-breadth escapes of the rest of the family are narrated by youngest daughter Ruth--including their trek on foot through the Alps on their way to Florence. Most of the novel will take place in that ancient Italian city, where wife will be separated from husband, and children from parents, as hiding places are found by rabbis and priests and plain citizens working secretly and at enormous risk. Eight years old when she left Warsaw, Ruth will be age 12 when Florence is finally liberated--by which time the young girl will have passed through a profound (and, for the reader, fine and moving) crisis of faith, served as a message-runner for the partisans who for a time harbor her, witnessed death first-hand, and lost--in a German atrocity-killing in Rome--the two brothers who served first in the French and then in the Italian resistance. Characters are often cursorily drawn, especially early in the novel, and historical facts find themselves wedged perfunctorily into the hurried text ("But until now, unlike the Vichy French, we have not surrendered any Jews. . . Not in Italy, nor in Greece, nor in Croatia, nor here in France"); but when Ruth emerges fully to tell the story of her own life in Florence, the book gains a momentum and sensitivity--in the war-wearied old city--that draw it through its stirring end.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1990
ISBN: 393-02894-1
Publisher: Norton
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