cover image The Tree of the Seventh Heaven

The Tree of the Seventh Heaven

Milton Hatoum. Atheneum Books, $18 (210pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12165-4

Set in the bustling multi-ethnic port of Manaus, Brazil (where Hatoum teaches at the University of the Amazon), this lushly lyrical, rich saga tells of a family of Lebanese immigrants torn by long-kept secrets, feuds and eccentricities. Emilie, the clan's fervently religious Christian matriarch, who both idolizes and smothers her children, lives surrounded by statues of saints and by birds and animals with whom she converses. Her faith sets her at odds with her stern Muslim husband, extravagant both in love and in argument. Extending from the 1890s to the near-present, the family's odyssey from Tripoli to Marseilles to the sultry Amazon, narrated in alternating voices, culminates in Emilie's death and the belated return of her rebellious, sensitive son Hakim after a 20-year absence. Family skeletons include the suicide of Emilie's withdrawn brother Emir and the irrational stigma surrounding Hakim's illegitimate deaf-dumb niece Soraya Angela. Winner of Brazil's Jabuti Prize, this exotic novel, musically translated from the Portuguese, sings of love, homesickness, bravery, broken dreams and the pangs of cultural assimilation. (Apr.)