Saturday, June 27, 2020

Going Back in Time with Ellen Marie Wiseman's The Plum Tree

Although I may not be known for my clever bon mots, the title for this post does, in fact, have a double meaning.  The Plum Tree not only takes place during WWII, but it's also Ellen's first book!  But enough about me. Let's get to the review.  And keep in mind that Ellen, herself, set a very high bar with 2 of my favorite books from the last few years - The Life She Was Given and What She Left Behind.

What is The Plum Tree about, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you:

"Bloom where you're planted," is the advice Christine Bolz receives from her beloved Oma.  But seventeen-year old domestic Christine knows there is a world waiting beyond her small German village.  It's a world she's begun to glimpse through music, books - and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.

Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations.  In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler's regime.  Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job - and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo's wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive - and finally, to speak out.

I liked a lot of things about this book:

1.  It was really interesting to see how Germany's non-Jewish citizens were treated during the war.  It was a real eye-opener...and it wasn't pretty.
2.  Even though it wasn't the main focus of the book, we still got an up-close look at how the Germans treated their Jewish citizens.  It's always a very rough read, and I certainly didn't "like" it.  But it's a good reminder that this actually happened.  And in today's world, we're still seeing prejudice in a lot of different forms.
3.  I learned how non-Jewish German citizens were treated at Dachau. They may not have been mass murdered, but they were still dealt with brutally.
4.  I, unfortunately, learned how the allied bombers killed so many innocent German citizens.  Much of it seemed random and unnecessary.
5.  I also learned how the different zones of Germany were dealt with after the war depending on which of the allied countries governed.
6.  This book hit me emotionally in myriad ways:  I shuddered, got chills, uttered OMGs, and had a fair amount of tears.
7.  Aside from all of the different elements of the book, let's not forget that it's also very well-written.  Here's an example:  "Isaac's sudden appearance on her doorstep felt like a previously hidden clue on a treasure map, or a newly discovered fork in a familiar road.  Something was about to change."

As I mentioned at the top of the post, The Plum Tree is Ellen's 1st book. Let me just say it sure doesn't read like a debut novel.  I'm really glad I read it, and now I have 3 of her books under my literary belt.  I will definitely be grabbing The Orphan Collector when it comes out in August.  After that it's on to Coal River.  Then I will be caught up and waiting (im)patiently for #6.  If you haven't read any of Ellen's books...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!


  1. What AM I waiting for? I'm on it!

  2. "Bloom where you're planted." If we all took this as our mantra, what a happy, contented group we might be.

    I'm sure the non-Jewish community didn't have it very easy under the Nazis, but I'd always been unsympathetic to those who turned a blind eye to what was happening to the Jewish community. Then a German friend and I started discussing this topic She was a child during this era.

    She had vague memories of some terrible experiences: being cold, having nothing but cabbage eat for months, bombs and destruction around her. She doesn't remember anything about the treatment of Jews, and I imagine a lot of non-Jewish Germans were so occupied with staying alive, they didn't concern themselves with the horrors. All together, this points to the futility of war no matter who you are or what you believe in.

    I'd prefer to concentrate on that "bloom where you're planted" notion. It's so much more constructive.