The conflict that comes around personal identity always causes a certain amount of tension, either inside the family unit or with the community around the individual. But it is a drama that must occur sometimes and that is what Nicole Lundrigan has brilliantly documented in her novel The Widow Tree.
After his parents had died, Dorjan had moved from Drobnik to Bregalnica to live with his nagyanya. He fought against it, insisting he could manage on his own. He knew where to buy bread. A quarter loaf. With his mother now gone, that was all he would need. His grandmother was welcome, he told her, to bring him a boiled egg and a bottle of milk on occasion.
Whenever he reflected on this memory, he always felt a wave of love for the old woman. she had not laughed at him when he was that child. Never took his thin wrist in her grip and dragged him out the door. No, she paced the floor, as though she were pondering his ideas. “I see,” she said. “I see you are an independent man” He nodded, and she said, “Today I insist. I have soup. You will insult me if you refuse my soup. Then tomorrow we will see. And each day after. Yes?”
The plot takes place in 1950s Yugoslavia. Three teenagers find a clutch of Roman coins while working in a government field. One insists that it is their patriotic duty to turn it over to the state. Another argues that they should just keep the coins. And the other is uncertain what to do.
He awoke suddenly in the darkness, his heart beating rapidly inside his chest. He sat up, placed his soles on the cold floor, and for a moment listened to the soft snores of his grandmother sleeping in the adjacent room. the old clock just outside his door ticked and ticked, and then chimed a single soft note.
Three weeks had passed since Dorjan had seen his best friend, and the questions were slowly making him ill. His appetite had drifted away, though his body was still stretching ever upward, thinning out. He found it difficult to swim for any length of time, his performance suffering. He realized now there was no excuse for not checking, for not going back into those woods. For letting the days pass, one after the other. He could no longer defend his shaky logic, believing that if he did no the truth, the possible outcome was still wide open.
Lundrigran’s writing is very descriptive. Her style draws a reader into the plot and makes feel like they are witnessing the story in real time as they turn page by page. She describes scenes in such a way that conveys emotion to the reader.
Once she reached the cemetery on the edge of the village, she stopped. It had been months since her last visit. She was not a woman who made a habit of visiting the dead.
The cemetery was a gently sloping hill covered in grass. Even though the grass was pale and stunted, she could clearly tell that it had been cut in recent weeks. People still tended to the grounds. There were rows and rows of crosses, once neat, but no longer. As the ground froze and thawed over the years, many of the older ones had shifted, leaning their heads this way and that. Gitta had the impression that several of them were peeking out from behind their sisters, young children wanting to be seen.
Imre’s marker, still relatively new compared with many others stood defiant and upright. Even though every monument was essentially the same, she found it easily. Eighteen steps north, six west, thirteen north again. His place was directly to her left.
She did not bend onto her knees or lower her head. If someone were to see her, she did not want to appear as though she were praying. Instead she stood quietly, brushing his engraved name with her gloved hands.
Nicole Lundrigan’s The Widow Tree is a brilliant novel with descriptive prose and a well thought out plot. It is a book that takes time to read but is well worth the effort.