cover image Tree of Heaven

Tree of Heaven

R. C. Binstock. Soho Press, $22 (212pp) ISBN 978-1-56947-038-1

This beautifully written debut novel by the author of the story collection The Light of Home explores the universal parameters of trust and fear, coercion and choice, guilt and forgiveness. It's a moving tale of fateful love between a sensitive Japanese army officer and the homeless, ragged Chinese woman whom he rescues during Japan's 1938 invasion of China. Kuroda, the Japanese captain, a botanist by profession, views Japan's occupation of China as a senseless crime and is disgusted with his countrymen who rape, loot, burn, murder and maim at will. When four of his men drunkenly assault Li, a Chinese vagabond who has been cast out by her husband for being infertile, Kuroda saves her from rape and makes her his servant and captive. After the two become lovers, Kuroda, who has a wife and daughter back in Japan, is branded an immoral eccentric in the eyes of his troops, while Li is scorned by the Chinese townfolk as a traitor and prostitute. Through an exquisitely limpid style and what appears to be considerable research, Binstock's stunning account of a doomed affair, told through the lovers' alternating voices, is wholly convincing both in its historical details and in its meticulous exploration of love, obsession and loss. (Aug.)