In the intriguing novel, The Song of the Tree by Lotis Key, the setting could be most anywhere. The characters are familiar yet somehow alien. It describes places (more like realities), worlds quite apart in everything else but location, right next to each other. These places are peopled by distinct groups, one group accepting and tolerating, the other persistent and insistent on maintaining a way of life, both groups pretending that their shared past of devastation did not happen.
It presents main characters related by blood, bound by suffering and history, closely sharing space and time, but emotionally cut off, one from the other. The novel is about geographical and chronological journeys. It is about ebbs and flows of relationships and fortunes, emotional oscillations, overcoming, backsliding, and then an explosive discovery. Through it all, there is the tree and a special song.
Lotis Key has had a successful stage and film career mostly in Asia where she played various roles giving voice to other people’s writings. In her first novel, Ms. Key proves to be a natural storyteller who leads you effortlessly along with her own words that fit so beautifully and sometimes surprisingly together to conjure a recognizable image that is so brightly vivid, giving you a generous glimpse into the characters’ emotions and allowing you to see through their eyes. You willingly follow what you think is a familiar plot until it twists into an amazing series of unexpected turns towards a brilliant climax.
The concepts of good and evil and God are an enduring theme in this Christian writer’s novel, not patronizing or trumpeted about yet subtly there, skillfully expressed for readers who are open and ready to make meaningful connections. In a freshly unique style, Ms. Key does not name any of her characters. Instead they are referred to by monikers throughout: Lady Boss, Stamp Collector, Old Man, Queen, and Demons for example. Then, there is the Tree, which is a central presence for the protagonists.
Many works of literature have given birth to unforgettable characters whose names stay on in readers’ memories for a lifetime, long after the story is forgotten. The characters in The Song of the Tree are no less memorable. If anything, they are more vividly remembered, unencumbered by any past association with other names in the reader’s mind. Not easy to put a grasp on over the first few pages, the story then fluidly takes off. It is briskly paced but would not be described as action adventure (although if made into a film, that could be a result).
It could be considered a tale of rough passages and intricate transitions. Mostly, it is a story about fervent vows, relationships, ambition, loss, fear, and discoveries. It is not so much different from regular life in some parts and quite a departure from ordinariness in others. It is a book for anyone who knows that relationships can be messy and life is not always rosy; that means most of us.