Walking The Tree
A large tree dominates this world, casting a shadow over every community and providing for their every need. Every year a group of young women, and even younger children, walk around the tree. As they walk, they visit the communities which are huddled around the base of the tree. For the children, the trip is educational, teaching them about their neighbors and therefore creating an understanding peace. For the teachers, the purpose is clear. This trip allows them to hunt for sexual partners. In this world, the females travel, auditioning the more sedentary males. They travel with the school until they meet a suitable partner. On achieving their aim; they join their chosen mate, leave the school and are replaced by a young woman from that community who will continue the journey. This is supposed to stop incest and create a wider gene pool.
We learn that this world has recently suffered an epidemic illness that killed many individuals and has had a profound effect on the society. We soon learn that this tragedy has caused the citizens of this world to fear illness and those citizens who are ill. They fear the chaos that sickness can cause. This fear will have a profound effect on our main Point Of View character Lilleth. She learns that one of the students has a chance of developing an illness. She promises to protect him. Her oath will have a profound effect on Lilleth’s life.
As we walk the tree, we see how each community conceptualizes, both; the tree and their relationship to it. We see that each community is structured differently and that the way they structure society is dependent on their geographic location and their relationship to the tree. We also discover that each community has its own stories and that those stories shape the ways in which they relate to the tree, their world and each other. In this world, stories are important. The storyteller plays a pivotal role within the society, keeping the people and the tree up to date with current affairs; while, at the same time reminding the citizens of their history. In turn, the citizens are the storytellers of their own lives, telling the tree their stories and correcting the stories of others. As the story, and the journey of the characters progresses, lilleth is forced to question her own understanding of both the world and those individuals who share it with her.
Thematic summary and conclusion
Identity is one of the main themes. I find Warren’s focus on illness and Disability particularly interesting. The communities have undergone a great ordeal. This ordeal was caused by plague. Therefore, they have a ‘natural’ fear of that illness. Their fear seems to have extended beyond their rational fear of the plague and moved to a fear of all disabilities and illness. In fact, many societies regularly kill disabled children and adults. These fears of the citizens concerning illness mirror our own fears. We fear illness, death and disability, refusing to look it in the eye and demonizing those who remind us of our vulnerability. In creating this scenario, Warren encourages us to examine our own treatment of the disabled community.
I have now read two books by Kareen Warren. This and Mistification (https://vikzwrites.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/mistification-kaaron-warren-by-kaaron-warren-my-rating-4-of-5-stars-why-am-i-reading-this-book-i-am-reading-this-as-part-of-the-australian-womens-writers-challenge-httpwww-goodreads-comgroup/). In my opinion, they both share a thematic link. They both share a fascination with story and how we use story to both; understand and misunderstand our world and each other. This is an important message for a world in which the news is regularly shaped and spun to fit in with a particular message.
I really liked this book. My only quibble is that it dragged in the middle. I wonder if we needed to be presented with so many communities. I began to get frustrated, and slightly confused, with the work after exploring the first couple. But, my frustration made me understand the frustration, and confusion, of the main characters.
This has been the first read for my 2013 AWW challenge and I couldn’t have made a better start.
4 February 2010
528pp A-format paperback
£7.99 UK $tbc Aus
ISBN (use US edition ISBN)
528pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US $8.99 CAN