The Tree Still Stands

Mae Briskin, Author W. W. Norton & Company $17.95 (254p) ISBN 978-0-393-02894-2
Briskin ( A Boy Like Astrid's Mother ), winner of the PEN Center USA West Award for short fiction, has created a sensitive, realistic and memorable novel of a Jewish girl's experiences during WW II. Through the eyes of young Ruth Levy we observe the unmistakable signs of political upheaval and religious persecution, and the ensuing drama of her family's trials. Beginning in Warsaw in 1939, when Ruth is seven, the story moves to France, where her father tries to ensure the family's survival by adopting a new land and culture. Later, the Levys cross the Alps to Italy, where the family begins to break up. With the help of priests and rabbis, Ruth, her mother and grandmother stay first in a convent, then separately in attics in different parts of town. Winning the trust of her sponsors, the 14-year-old makes herself useful to the partisans by delivering messages and drawing portraits and maps, in the process confronting the stark cruelty of the Nazi occupation. A crisis of faith, her need to gain an equal footing with her parents, and her first love bring Ruth both the joy of self-awareness and the burden of sorrow for friends and relatives lost. While much of the narrative is absorbing and moving, the proliferation of minor characters, the awkward inclusion of historical details and confusing flashbacks (relating events that Ruth has missed while in hiding) often shift the emphasis from the family's devotion to and honesty with one another to more casual relationships--though Ruth remains a strong and fascinating force throughout. Spirited and brave, Ruth is an admirable protagonist, both as a child of war and as a young woman achieving intellectual and emotional independence. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991
Release date: 01/01/1991
Paperback - 978-0-393-30876-1
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