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The gospel of trees : a memoir /

by Irving, Apricot Anderson [author.].
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2018.Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.Description: 373 pages ; 24 cm.ISBN: 9781451690453; 1451690452.Subject(s): Irving, Apricot Anderson | Irving, Apricot Anderson -- Family | Children of missionaries -- Haiti -- Biography | Americans -- Haiti -- Biography | Haiti -- Biography | Missions -- Haiti | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Literary Figures | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Women | TRAVEL / Central America | Missions -- Haiti | Autobiographies | AutobiographiesSummary: The author shares her memories of growing up in Haiti as the daughter of an idealistic missionary, exploring her experiences living in a hospital compound as her family and the country experienced a period of upheaval.Summary: "In this compelling, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Apricot Irving recounts her childhood as a missionary's daughter in Haiti during a time of upheaval--both in the country and in her home. Apricot Irving grew up as a missionary's daughter in Haiti--a country easy to sensationalize but difficult to understand. Her father was an agronomist, a man who hiked alone into the hills with a macouti of seeds to preach the gospel of trees in a deforested but resilient country. Her mother and sisters, meanwhile, spent most of their days in the confines of the hospital compound they called home. As a child, this felt like paradise to Irving; as a teenager, the same setting felt like a prison. Outside of the walls of the missionary enclave, Haiti was a tumult of bugle-call bus horns and bicycles that jangled over hard-packed dirt, the clamor of chickens and cicadas, the sudden, insistent clatter of rain as it hammered across tin roofs and the swell of voices running ahead of the storm..." -- Publisher's description
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

In this compelling, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Apricot Irving recounts her childhood as a missionary's daughter in Haiti during a time of upheaval--both in the country and in her home.<br> <br> Apricot Irving grew up as a missionary's daughter in Haiti--a country easy to sensationalize but difficult to understand. Her father was an agronomist, a man who hiked alone into the hills with a macouti of seeds to preach the gospel of trees in a deforested but resilient country. Her mother and sisters, meanwhile, spent most of their days in the confines of the hospital compound they called home. As a child, this felt like paradise to Irving; as a teenager, the same setting felt like a prison. Outside of the walls of the missionary enclave, Haiti was a tumult of bugle-call bus horns and bicycles that jangled over hard-packed dirt, the clamor of chickens and cicadas, the sudden, insistent clatter of rain as it hammered across tin roofs and the swell of voices running ahead of the storm.<br> <br> As she emerges into womanhood, an already confusing process made all the more complicated by Christianity's demands, Irving struggles to understand her father's choices. His unswerving commitment to his mission, and the anger and despair that followed failed enterprises, threatened to splinter his family.<br> <br> Beautiful, poignant, and explosive, The Gospel of Trees is the story of a family crushed by ideals, and restored to kindness by honesty. Told against the backdrop of Haiti's long history of intervention--often unwelcome--it grapples with the complicated legacy of those who wish to improve the world. Drawing from family letters, cassette tapes, journals, and interviews, it is an exploration of missionary culpability and idealism, told from within.

The author shares her memories of growing up in Haiti as the daughter of an idealistic missionary, exploring her experiences living in a hospital compound as her family and the country experienced a period of upheaval.

"In this compelling, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Apricot Irving recounts her childhood as a missionary's daughter in Haiti during a time of upheaval--both in the country and in her home. Apricot Irving grew up as a missionary's daughter in Haiti--a country easy to sensationalize but difficult to understand. Her father was an agronomist, a man who hiked alone into the hills with a macouti of seeds to preach the gospel of trees in a deforested but resilient country. Her mother and sisters, meanwhile, spent most of their days in the confines of the hospital compound they called home. As a child, this felt like paradise to Irving; as a teenager, the same setting felt like a prison. Outside of the walls of the missionary enclave, Haiti was a tumult of bugle-call bus horns and bicycles that jangled over hard-packed dirt, the clamor of chickens and cicadas, the sudden, insistent clatter of rain as it hammered across tin roofs and the swell of voices running ahead of the storm..." -- Publisher's description

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

<opt> <anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">The Gospel of Trees Prelude Oregon, 2001 I WAS SIX years old, a freckle-nosed girl with long red braids that whapped against my elbows, when my parents moved to the north of Haiti to be missionaries--not far from where Columbus sank the Santa María. By the time I was in my twenties, a recovering missionary's daughter, most of the stories I had read about missionaries seemed to fall into one of two categories: hagiography or exposé; the Sunday school version or Lord of the Flies. When we don't know what to make of a situation, we grope for a familiar pattern, a path worn into the grass. The danger, of course, is that by imposing our own expectations, we fail to see anything clearly. I am as guilty of this as anyone. Stories, like archaeology, are fragmentary, composed of scraps and nuances, and--depending on what is left out--most narratives can be constructed so as to end in either glory or ruin. But the missionaries I had grown up with were neither marauders nor saints; Haiti was neither savage nor noble. The truth was far more complicated. My father, a missionary agronomist, is a man of the earth, his fingernails perpetually stained with berries and dirt. His first language is trees, and he can still recite the genus and species of every tree that grew outside every house we ever lived in. He shimmied up willows and Chinese elms, black walnuts and canyon live oaks, to tie rope swings for my sisters and me to play. Leave every place better than you found it, he taught us--a mantra from his forest ranger days. He pruned and fertilized a neglected apricot tree across the street from a crack house in Los Angeles county. He rescued an apple tree imprisoned by blackberries in Oregon. In Haiti, he planted avocados and mangoes, and twenty years after the seeds had been buried in the soil, he could still carve a path through an overgrown garden to a cedar so wide that his outstretched arms could not span its trunk. Yet his anger, too, left its mark. He longed to make the world a better place, but by taking on the sorrows of others, he buried his own until that thwarted grief exploded into rage: a dinner table upended, a window shattered as a Bible hurtled through the air, a daughter slammed against a wall. I have seen my parents venerated, in church circles, as heroes of the faith. We were the sent ones--for that is the root of the word "missionary"--sent by the Holy Spirit; sent by the churches who paid for our plane tickets and salary, who expected glory stories. A redemptive theme was expected in each and every newsletter and slide show. If my parents couldn't deliver, then the funding would be redirected to more eloquent storytellers. My father's fear and anger was a story we didn't know how to tell; a story that, for long years, the church didn't seem to want to hear. I was fifteen when my parents hosted their last slide show in a church fellowship hall, having left the mission field, this time, for good. The slide shows, a fixture of my childhood, began with metaphor: a sunrise tilting in white heat over the edge of a mountain; light filling the darkness. But by the time my father had clicked to images of eroded Haitian hillsides so steep and desolate that farmers would, on occasion, be carried into the missionary hospital with broken limbs after having fallen from their gardens, his voice would have dropped into a bitter cadence. The anecdotes grew only more discouraging as the slide show wore on. My father's vision of utopia was agrarian: trees on every hillside, vegetables in every garden, water in every dry streambed. Seeds were small, but they could change the world. Roots to hold the soil in place, to allow the rain to drip slowly through a thicket of green leaves, to fall soft into loamy soil, replenishing the groundwater. It was through trees that the earth breathed. And the soil of Haiti was rich--a twelve-month growing season, without cold nights to slow down the pace. Stick a cutting in the ground and out fluttered roots and buds, all on their own. But so little of his missionary vision had unfolded as planned. One photograph from the slide show, taken during a year of drought, showed a Haitian farmer, his wife, and their five children standing in front of their mud-walled home. At their feet lay a withered pile of corn no bigger than a Thanksgiving turkey: their entire harvest for that year. In the face of such poverty, further deforestation seemed all but inevitable. Trees could at least be cut and smoldered into charcoal, light enough to transport down the twisting mountain paths on a donkey's back or a motorcycle to pay a debt in a moment of crisis: a child's school fees, a doctor visit, a funeral. The following year, with fewer trees to hold the soil in place, the gardens would be even sparser, the rainfall more sporadic. There were ways around this, for the patient. But patience was a luxury of those who had enough food to eat, whose children were not dying. Patience was what the poor could not afford. To keep the slide show from being a complete downer, my mother would usually pipe up at this point with anecdotes of our family adventures--rafting trips, crocodile sightings, a haphazard expedition on an overcrowded fishing boat to a remote island off the coast of Haiti. She also mentioned our few small, notable successes: the rabbit projects, the seedling trees, the green beans that grew as long as my little sister's arm. Sufficient to thrill the supporters, but for my father, it was never enough. We did not describe, during church slide shows, the time we were evacuated for fear of riots, or the man we watched burned alive inside a rubber tire. No matter how volatile Haiti became, devastated by drought and military coups, my father rooted himself all the more stubbornly in its eroded soil, so that by the time we finally left, resentment had grown between us like a hedge of rakèt cactus, barbed and impenetrable. For more than a decade after we left, my family seldom spoke of Haiti. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I asked my parents if they had kept any of our missionary newsletters. My mother, who seemed reluctant to even talk about Haiti, said she didn't know why we would have kept them. My father pulled on his rain boots and told me to follow him out to the barn. It was a bright, cold Oregon afternoon in early November, and the air was sharp with decaying leaves and the mumbled whir of the food dehydrator. My father pulled out a stack of Chiquita banana boxes sticky with tractor grease, hidden under baseball gloves and loose bales of hay. I pried open the lids and found cobwebs stretched across church bulletins and toys dank with must. Western Barbie, my prized eight-year-old birthday present flown in on the missionary plane, was trapped under a doll bed carved from Haitian mahogany. Her left eye was snapped shut in a permanent blue-lidded wink. My mother kicked at a box with her muck boot and asked: Why did we even keep this junk? We both knew it was my father who had guarded the relics. I waited until I was alone to sort through the detritus. Though I doubted that the cassettes we'd sent to the grandparents would still work, the wheels strained, then slowly spun. The delicate ribbons unraveled tinny, otherworldly stories of near-accidents on the highway to Port-au-Prince, torrential rainstorms, roosters that crowed all night, and peripheral arguments between my sisters and me about who got to play with the coveted blond Barbie. To listen to our childish voices was to reenter a lost world. It was more joyful, and bewildering, than I had remembered. Buried beneath one stack of papers was a black spiral notebook whose cover bloomed with blue-gray mold. As I cracked open the stiff pages, I realized that the day planner had been used as a journal. I sat back on my heels and slowly turned the pages. It was no small feat to decipher my father's cramped left-handed scrawl, each day's synopsis limned into a single calendar entry the size of a postage stamp. Came home tired from Garde Conjac, he had written shortly after we returned to Haiti for the last time. Think it was all the suffering I saw. My eyes burned with the strain, and after a few pages I had to set the journal down and stare out the window. My own journals from those years--in bubbly adolescent penmanship, the "i"s dotted with hearts--were full of passionate meditations on the most recent boy I'd happened to fall in love with, alongside diatribes about my boring, goody-two-shoes father. I had resented him for as long as I could remember--hurt that his agricultural projects always seemed to come first, that the needs of others appeared to matter so much more than our own. Now, for the first time, I saw Haiti through his eyes. Beautiful sunset coming down the mountain, he had written after hiking miles in the damp heat. A short while later, he observed: Girls forlorn tonight. I put my hand over my mouth and choked back a sob. I hadn't realized that he noticed. My father is not an easy man to keep up with. My father the missionary will gladly walk for hours under a searing tropical sky with only a few sips of water and a handful of dried fruit to deliver tree seeds to subsistence farmers to keep the soil from slipping down eroded hillsides. My father the forest ranger can traverse miles of unmarked wilderness without a map. My father has never known how to be gentle with those who do not live up to his expectations. I inherited my father's anger and his perfectionism. Haiti was a wound, an unhealed scab that I was afraid to pick open. But I knew that unless I faced that broken history, my own buried grief, like my father's, would explode in ways I couldn't predict. Even as a child, I had understood that the missionary compound was a place I would have to one day untangle with words. I sat down at my empty desk and wrote: Here's to home, wherever that is, and whatever it takes to find it. Here's to taking risks and not running away anymore. Here's to failing, probably, at everything that I am setting out to do. But here's to trying anyway. Here's to my sisters, and my mother, and to the farm in Oregon; here's to my father (God bless his emotionally atrophied, demanding, workaholic soul). Here's to the missionary compound that broke us all. And to Haiti: a country that I have never understood, and have always resented (and have always wanted to belong to). When I found a map of Haiti among my parents' letters, I hung it on the wall above my desk--a reminder of the place that I had tried for so long to forget. The illusion of order felt comforting, as if so much jagged history could be made small enough to carry in the mind and make sense of. On the map, the sea was pale blue, and the names of the bays and rivers were written in French in bold dark letters: Océan Atlantique, Mer des Antilles, Baie de l'Acul. Limbé was no bigger than a citron seed, in a green valley at the base of a yellow sweep of mountains. Three thousand miles from where I sat, pen in hand, trying to find my way through a story that I was still afraid to tell. When I closed my eyes, I could hear the jangle of bicycles over hard-packed dirt and the sudden insistent clatter of rain as it hammered across tin roofs, the swell of voices running ahead of the storm: lapli tonbe, lapli tonbe--the rain is falling, the rain is coming. Excerpted from The Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon> </opt>

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Writer and journalist Irving (This American Life) presents a reflective memoir focused on her childhood in Haiti with her Baptist missionary parents. Between the ages of six to 15, Irving mainly lived in a missionary compound in Limbe, northern Haiti, near the busy Good Samaritan Hospital. Irving's father was an idealistic agronomist, whose ambitious plans to help reforest Haiti, improve the soil, and reduce erosion often ended in terrible frustration, despite his dedication. Struggling with the challenges of missionary life and occasional Haitian political instability, Irving navigated a bumpy adolescence marked by episodes of family discord. Yet, the author was buoyed by adventure, beauty, resilience, and social connections found amid the missionary group and Haitian friends. Irving's work also sheds light on the underlying causes and consequences of Haiti's poverty and poor access to medical care. While providing a useful view of the inherent ethical and moral ambiguities of well-meaning but sometimes ineffective charitable interventions in Haiti, Irving's meandering autobiography often feels unfocused and circuitous. VERDICT Best suited to serious readers interested in Haiti or the lives of missionary children and families.-Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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