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Two Trees Make a Forest: A Story of Memory, Migration, and Taiwan

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I have learned many words for ‘island’: isle, atoll, eyot, islet, or skerry. They exist in archipelagos or alone, and always, by definition, I have understood them by their relation to water. But the Chinese word for island knows nothing of water. For a civilisation grown inland from the sea, the vastness of mountains was a better analogue: (dao, ‘island’) built from the r I have learned many words for ‘island’: isle, atoll, eyot, islet, or skerry. They exist in archipelagos or alone, and always, by definition, I have understood them by their relation to water. But the Chinese word for island knows nothing of water. For a civilisation grown inland from the sea, the vastness of mountains was a better analogue: (dao, ‘island’) built from the relationship between earth and sky. Between tectonic plates and conflicting cultures, Taiwan is an island of extremes: high mountains, exposed flatlands, thick forests. After unearthing a hidden memoir of her grandfather’s life, written on the cusp of his total memory loss, Jessica J Lee hunts his story, in parallel with exploring Taiwan, hoping to understand the quakes that brought her family from China, to Taiwan and Canada, and the ways in which our human stories are interlaced with geographical forces. Part-nature writing, part-biography, Two Trees Make a Forest traces the natural and human stories that shaped an island and a family.


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I have learned many words for ‘island’: isle, atoll, eyot, islet, or skerry. They exist in archipelagos or alone, and always, by definition, I have understood them by their relation to water. But the Chinese word for island knows nothing of water. For a civilisation grown inland from the sea, the vastness of mountains was a better analogue: (dao, ‘island’) built from the r I have learned many words for ‘island’: isle, atoll, eyot, islet, or skerry. They exist in archipelagos or alone, and always, by definition, I have understood them by their relation to water. But the Chinese word for island knows nothing of water. For a civilisation grown inland from the sea, the vastness of mountains was a better analogue: (dao, ‘island’) built from the relationship between earth and sky. Between tectonic plates and conflicting cultures, Taiwan is an island of extremes: high mountains, exposed flatlands, thick forests. After unearthing a hidden memoir of her grandfather’s life, written on the cusp of his total memory loss, Jessica J Lee hunts his story, in parallel with exploring Taiwan, hoping to understand the quakes that brought her family from China, to Taiwan and Canada, and the ways in which our human stories are interlaced with geographical forces. Part-nature writing, part-biography, Two Trees Make a Forest traces the natural and human stories that shaped an island and a family.

30 review for Two Trees Make a Forest: A Story of Memory, Migration, and Taiwan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) I loved Turning, Lee’s 2017 memoir about swimming in one of Berlin’s lakes per week for a year, so I jumped at the chance to read her follow-up, which delves into her maternal line’s history in Taiwan. She travels to Taipei for three months to brush up on her Chinese, write and hike. Interspersed with the lush descriptions of her walks are reflections on Taiwan’s history and on the hidden aspects of her grandfather Gong’s past that only came to light after Lee’s grandmother, Po, died and s (3.5) I loved Turning, Lee’s 2017 memoir about swimming in one of Berlin’s lakes per week for a year, so I jumped at the chance to read her follow-up, which delves into her maternal line’s history in Taiwan. She travels to Taipei for three months to brush up on her Chinese, write and hike. Interspersed with the lush descriptions of her walks are reflections on Taiwan’s history and on the hidden aspects of her grandfather Gong’s past that only came to light after Lee’s grandmother, Po, died and she and her mother discovered an autobiographical letter he’d written before he drifted into dementia. Nature, language, history and memory flow together in a delicate blend of genres – “I moved from the human timescale of my family’s story through green and unfurling dendrological time,” she writes. This has got to be one of the most striking title and cover combinations of the year. Along with Chinese characters, the book includes some looping text and Nico Taylor’s maps and illustrations of Taiwanese flora and fauna. While you will likely get more out of this if you have a particular interest in Asian history, languages and culture, it’s impressive how Lee brings the different strands of her story together to form a hybrid nature memoir that I hope will be recognized by next year’s Wainwright Prize and Young Writer of the Year Award shortlists. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺

    Boring. So boring. I’m a bit of a family historian and enjoy researching my family tree and piecing together a narrative about my ancestors lives, so I can understand what Lee is trying to accomplish here. I just don’t think it holds interest for the average reader. I mean, even if you don’t find the family history boring, the long descriptions of the flora and fauna of Taiwan are sure to get you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emmeline

    It's been a particular pleasure in recent years to read so many books written by fellow children-now-adults of the diaspora (specifically: Taiwan); I imagine many of us wish we had such books previously, and so wrote them into existence. Lee captured a lot of my own loss/reaching (of course different, but similar) here. And finally, reading this solidly in a pandemic was a special kind of ache, but I would still recommend it. It's been a particular pleasure in recent years to read so many books written by fellow children-now-adults of the diaspora (specifically: Taiwan); I imagine many of us wish we had such books previously, and so wrote them into existence. Lee captured a lot of my own loss/reaching (of course different, but similar) here. And finally, reading this solidly in a pandemic was a special kind of ache, but I would still recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    It's another in a growing work of literary nature writing that I find I'm a sucker for. From The Overstory to Greenwood it's the personal entwined with the natural world and Lee, as an environmental historian, is uniquely poised to tackle this growing genre. It is the history of Taiwan, a relatively young island at a spry 6-9 million years and barely 90 miles wide, variously occupied by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese. It is the home to thousands of endemic species specific It's another in a growing work of literary nature writing that I find I'm a sucker for. From The Overstory to Greenwood it's the personal entwined with the natural world and Lee, as an environmental historian, is uniquely poised to tackle this growing genre. It is the history of Taiwan, a relatively young island at a spry 6-9 million years and barely 90 miles wide, variously occupied by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese. It is the home to thousands of endemic species specific to the island, plants that have yet to be found anywhere else. And here in this lush, damp greenery Lee explores her past after the death of her grandfather. He a pilot with the Flying Tigers during WWII who came to Canada and worked as a janitor at the Chef Boyardee factory in Niagara. Her grandmother from Nanjing who lived through the horrors inflicted there by the Japanese. The stories never fully cohered for me. While it's a mere sliver of an island and she was never more than an hour or two away from where her grandparents lived, it felt as if she was climbing the Rockies while limply gesturing to her family's past in rural Saskatchewan. I enjoyed the nature writing but I shouldn't want less of her grandparent's history when their lives seem so ripe for storytelling.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Fatma

    Jessica J. Lee is such a beautiful writer, and Two Trees Make a Forest is such a gentle book. I'm not typically one for nature writing; I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of the natural world, partly because I don't have the vocabulary to understand it and partly because I just find it hard to conceptualize vast landscapes in general. If you're like me, then this book will be perfect for you. Because yes, Two Trees Make a Forest is a book about the natural world--of Taiwan, specifically Jessica J. Lee is such a beautiful writer, and Two Trees Make a Forest is such a gentle book. I'm not typically one for nature writing; I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of the natural world, partly because I don't have the vocabulary to understand it and partly because I just find it hard to conceptualize vast landscapes in general. If you're like me, then this book will be perfect for you. Because yes, Two Trees Make a Forest is a book about the natural world--of Taiwan, specifically--but it is also a book about family and memory and narrative, and that is what really undergirds Jessica J. Lee's writing here. I call this book "gentle" because it strikes me as the perfect word to describe the atmosphere that Jessica J. Lee creates through her writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which Lee narrates herself, and it felt like just that: gentle. Lee has the most calm, soothing voice--you can really hear the pathos behind her narration--and each section of the book is interspersed with these wind chime sounds that tie the book together in such a lovely way. What I especially loved about this book is how deftly Jessica J. Lee weaves her family's history along with her exploration of the natural landscape of Taiwan. This is not, strictly speaking, just a book about nature in Taiwan. It's about Lee's family history, particularly that of her grandparents', and her own relationship to that history. In exploring that history, she touches on so many topics that resonated with me: the death of her grandfather and how she felt like she didn't truly know him before he died, her discovery of a narrative of himself that he had started writing before he died, her attempt to find some remaining family ties in Taiwan. And through it all, Lee stresses the significance of language: how it shapes, how it obfuscates, how it transmutes. Like I said, I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of natural landscapes, but this was not at all the case with Lee's book: her descriptions are resonant and fresh, as alive and dynamic as the natural world that she is describing. Two Trees Make a Forest is a deeply personal and moving book, and definitely one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year. (thank you so much to Hamish Hamilton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 Thoughts soon.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Catapult

    Two Trees Make a Forest is an exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir perfect for fans of Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations and William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. It is an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. Two Trees Make a Forest is an exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir perfect for fans of Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations and William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. It is an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chels Patterson

    This book had everything I should like, it’s a family memoir, travel log, and a nature travel. But it lacked any pull for me. The best way to describe it is a mix of Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto and Beyond the Trees by Adam Shoalts. But where both have a clear progression and timeline, even with flash backs and complementary stories as the main story progresses. What I remember about this story is the grandparents lived in Niagara, that the grandfather learnt to cook at the feet of his mother. An This book had everything I should like, it’s a family memoir, travel log, and a nature travel. But it lacked any pull for me. The best way to describe it is a mix of Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto and Beyond the Trees by Adam Shoalts. But where both have a clear progression and timeline, even with flash backs and complementary stories as the main story progresses. What I remember about this story is the grandparents lived in Niagara, that the grandfather learnt to cook at the feet of his mother. And that the author lives in Berlin. But beyond that it’s choppy. The structure means the author goes back to stories and constantly flushes them out. But it makes it very repetitive, they aren’t told differently but just notes the author randomly places though out the book as if they forgot to add them the first time the told the story. So because of this, the reader gets confused or has half pictures for no reason, it’s a memoir, not a novel with a unreliable narrator. Example is the grandfather returning to Taiwan in his old age, we learn at the start of the book. Why? By whom? What for? How long?Did the grandmother die? Did they divorce? At the end of the book in a throwaway comment the author mentions that his wife took him over to be taken care of and no one from the family ever saw him again. It was distracting not to know, or to revisit it a few times. The writing was repetitive, beyond that of stories, the words used and metaphors were over used and overstressed. It seems the author was trying to force a connection, or show the connection to the family. I’m really sorry this is a Canada Reads book for 2021. To emphasize it, I returned the book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anne-Marie

    I adored this memoir. If you like nature writing mixed with memoir and family history and travel, pick up this story of a woman travelling to Taiwan, hiking through the forests and recounting her grandparents' history. I definitely want to visit Taiwan and hike the mountains and forests there, now. My main critique is I wish there had been more exploration of the indigenous population of Taiwan - she briefly covers the colonization history of Taiwan (by Europeans, mainland China, and Japan at alt I adored this memoir. If you like nature writing mixed with memoir and family history and travel, pick up this story of a woman travelling to Taiwan, hiking through the forests and recounting her grandparents' history. I definitely want to visit Taiwan and hike the mountains and forests there, now. My main critique is I wish there had been more exploration of the indigenous population of Taiwan - she briefly covers the colonization history of Taiwan (by Europeans, mainland China, and Japan at alternate times) but doesn't go in depth on the original inhabitants or their language (albeit not the main focus of this book). I would have also loved to see photos of hiking spots or the flora and fauna she discusses (worth the Google search, however). Otherwise, a fantastic nature/travel and family history memoir!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shimmi Kelly

    Oh my. This book is so special. Jessica J. Lee’s depiction of Taiwan’s nature and landscape is rich and gentle and vibrant. The writing is just gorgeous. She perfectly describes the bittersweet, haunting feelings of walking where others have walked before. Deep connections between family, landscape, and history are wound together so elegantly! This book is a wonderful balance of intimate emotion and fascinating knowledge. Now, I feel like I must visit Taiwan and see the beautiful landscapes and w Oh my. This book is so special. Jessica J. Lee’s depiction of Taiwan’s nature and landscape is rich and gentle and vibrant. The writing is just gorgeous. She perfectly describes the bittersweet, haunting feelings of walking where others have walked before. Deep connections between family, landscape, and history are wound together so elegantly! This book is a wonderful balance of intimate emotion and fascinating knowledge. Now, I feel like I must visit Taiwan and see the beautiful landscapes and wildlife that she has illustrated.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    A very informative history, both of a personal nature and of Taiwan as a whole, that combines memoir, nature essays, and history together. A unique read - not organized like other books of the same type I’ve read. Taiwan has a fascinating history, and getting to read about that often dark past was interesting. I was also very invested in her grandfather’s story.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jaime Morse

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I learned a whole bunch about Taiwan (note! TAIWAN & not Thailand!!). I love that the author wrote that. I found myself looking up images of wildlife and the mountains and other landscape of Taiwan. I found the map and especially the timeline extremely useful. It’s amazing how looking back through the remnants of our close relatives can not only help us see them in a completely new way but help us to understand their choices or at least empathize with them. I’m extremely grateful to Jessica J. L I learned a whole bunch about Taiwan (note! TAIWAN & not Thailand!!). I love that the author wrote that. I found myself looking up images of wildlife and the mountains and other landscape of Taiwan. I found the map and especially the timeline extremely useful. It’s amazing how looking back through the remnants of our close relatives can not only help us see them in a completely new way but help us to understand their choices or at least empathize with them. I’m extremely grateful to Jessica J. Lee. for all the intimate details of her physical and emotional struggle through the archipelago in Taiwan and the strong pull to a homeland she was never born in but had a deep desire to relate to as a Taiwanese/Chinese & Welsh person who grew up mostly in Canada and now lives in Germany. Such an impressive background of languages. Jessica J. Lee is a swimmer, a bird watcher, a botanist and a seemingly thorough researcher. I say that because I haven’t checked the references though I’ve been having fun googling the images of the Taiwan landscape. The writer also gives a brief history of interactions with the state and competing foreign powers with the land’s Indigenous people. The memoir brought me back to the dream work done by Eleng Luluan of the Rukai Nation called Between Dreams: https://ottawacitizen.com/entertainme... I wish there was a bit more about the Indigenous people but I know her book wasn’t necessarily about that. Or, maybe it was...great job 👌🏽

  13. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I just couldn't sink my teeth into anything here. I just couldn't sink my teeth into anything here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mbgirl

    Read this memoir of author’s maternal Taiwanese side of the fam right after a friend returned from Taiwan herself, daily sending me mouthwatering photos of food while she was both quarantined in a hotel, and out on the streets and in restaurants. So glad Lee also decided to describe Tw food in detail- one day, I will make it to that island, instead of just taking a bus from Songshan to Taoyuan, eating at its airport! Attempting to uniquely parallel and juxtapose the naturalist world of Taiwan and Read this memoir of author’s maternal Taiwanese side of the fam right after a friend returned from Taiwan herself, daily sending me mouthwatering photos of food while she was both quarantined in a hotel, and out on the streets and in restaurants. So glad Lee also decided to describe Tw food in detail- one day, I will make it to that island, instead of just taking a bus from Songshan to Taoyuan, eating at its airport! Attempting to uniquely parallel and juxtapose the naturalist world of Taiwan and its botany, its mountains, its coasts, its unique flora and fauna with the story of her mother’s side of her family.... She had a Gong who was a former pilot for the Flying Tigers, quietly cleaned the floors of a canned food plant in Canada, and who ultimately succumbed to Alzheimer’s and moved from Canada to his final breath., at a veteran’s home in Taiwan. Lee shares how she learns about her Chinese side of the family, how her Po left crazy Nanjing right around the ‘37 massacre—- she includes dynamics with her Mom. She even has a sister and tries to weave back and forth how the marvels of Taiwan island’s bountiful treasures help her to reflect upon and appreciate that side of her family. Along the way, she meets native Charlene, and her Po’s first cousin, “Aiyi “— she improves her literate Fanti Chinese, and gets a whole heckuva lot more fit hiking all those mountain ranges. There was just a treasure trove of learning about Taiwan and its non-metropolitan facts! This penned by a cold water swimmer athlete and academician in Berlin! Now I wanna both read about Hampstead Heath as well as to visit it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charlott

    Everything in my education had inoculated me against this kind of anthropocentrism: to resist the idea of nature for us alone, of a forest providing arboreal answers to very human predicaments. But still I find myself falling short, seeing in this mountain a mirror for my misunderstandings, as if in knowing its nature I might find a way to belong to this place. Jessica J. Lee's sophomore book "Two Trees Make a Forest. On Memory, Migration and Taiwan" traces her grandparents' story from China to T Everything in my education had inoculated me against this kind of anthropocentrism: to resist the idea of nature for us alone, of a forest providing arboreal answers to very human predicaments. But still I find myself falling short, seeing in this mountain a mirror for my misunderstandings, as if in knowing its nature I might find a way to belong to this place. Jessica J. Lee's sophomore book "Two Trees Make a Forest. On Memory, Migration and Taiwan" traces her grandparents' story from China to Taiwan to Canada and uncovers some family members and other hidden stories on the way. Though this is not the book which offers answers to all questions - some things remain in the fog like a city on the foot of a mountain. Lee combines aspects of a memoir with more broad travel and especially nature writing. She meditates on questions of memory and belonging while dissecting Taiwan's complex history. It is a book difficult to sum up because it is so multi-layered and does so many different things. Sometimes, it can feel slightly aimless but the writing is beautiful and I stumbled about so many facts and ideas - I have now a list of things I want to explore even more (like the role of botanists in colonial endeavours).

  16. 5 out of 5

    T.R.

    Part memoir, part quest for self, family, and nature in Taiwan, this is a gentle book with a gentle narrative voice that carries the reader along on a very personal journey. I like it for its simplicity and clarity, and its evocation of Taiwan and her family that is both personal and yet placed neatly within the great sprawl of the island's history and geography. Part memoir, part quest for self, family, and nature in Taiwan, this is a gentle book with a gentle narrative voice that carries the reader along on a very personal journey. I like it for its simplicity and clarity, and its evocation of Taiwan and her family that is both personal and yet placed neatly within the great sprawl of the island's history and geography.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jquick99

    I wanted to like this much more than I did. DNF. At first, it seemed like a wiki article. Then the opposite, “captivatingly beautiful prose” (from the book description) kicked in. And it’s somewhere between there (dry text and fluff), where I like my books. I kept thinking...alright already...tell me some interesting stories!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hayden

    It makes me sad to see how many people think this memoir is boring. I understand where they are coming from, and maybe if I had read this book instead of listened to it, I may have had a harder time getting through it. To me, this memoir was a meditation on belonging and mourning. Mourning a lost history, a lost ancestry, a lost connection....researching and learning about Taiwan is an act of mourning for this author...an attempt to piece together a broken history of family and land...a story th It makes me sad to see how many people think this memoir is boring. I understand where they are coming from, and maybe if I had read this book instead of listened to it, I may have had a harder time getting through it. To me, this memoir was a meditation on belonging and mourning. Mourning a lost history, a lost ancestry, a lost connection....researching and learning about Taiwan is an act of mourning for this author...an attempt to piece together a broken history of family and land...a story that is foreign to you but in your blood and in the eyes of your parents and grandparents, and this disconnect is a lived reality for many families who have suffered great trauma across generations. I think the subtext of this is really well balanced. Lee describes melancholy and hope throughout the book through her many vignettes, and she echoes the experiences of other asian immigrant stories that I have read in the past. A lot of reviews seem to focus on the fact that Lee talks about flora and land so much...but there is an excerpt early in the text where Lee says something like “I don’t have the words to connect to this place, the only language I understand here is that of the trees, the rivers, the mountains”. And this ties into a bit at the end where Lee says something like “The character of ‘tree’ is in my name, and in the names of my family. Together we make a forest” and this is true in Chinese characters as well. Put two characters of ‘tree’ together, and you get the word ‘forest’. When we know this, we can see how Lee is trying to piece together the ‘trees’ or her family history to build a ‘forest’. Talking about land and getting to know the shape of Taiwan is an attempt to get to know her family. There is a lot of beautiful metaphor here that I think may be lost on some readers, and that’s ok. This books isn’t for everyone. But it has earned its place in the Canada Reads program. :)

  19. 5 out of 5

    JennieWithTheBooks☮️(◕‿◕✿)

    3 ⭐⭐⭐'s Like the sequoias of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, red and yellow cedars in Taiwan are so huge that just two of them, writes environmental historian Jessica J. Lee, can look and feel like a whole forest... At the center of “Two Trees Make A Forest” is the author’s exploration of family identity and the political dimensions of Taiwan’s past. While born and raised in Canada, Lee writes that “Taiwan and its past had inhabited my imagination for most of my life.” While “Two Trees Makes A Forest” 3 ⭐⭐⭐'s Like the sequoias of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, red and yellow cedars in Taiwan are so huge that just two of them, writes environmental historian Jessica J. Lee, can look and feel like a whole forest... At the center of “Two Trees Make A Forest” is the author’s exploration of family identity and the political dimensions of Taiwan’s past. While born and raised in Canada, Lee writes that “Taiwan and its past had inhabited my imagination for most of my life.” While “Two Trees Makes A Forest” is jam-packed full of graceful prose, which personally I absolutely loved, I do feel that most readers may have difficulty grasping some of the author’s more specialized descriptions of scenery. With that being said, for a nature enthusiast like myself, this book offers an abundance of landscapes to imagine. As much as Ms. Lee hopes to share her family’s past with the reader, her fragmented delivery arguably falls in step with the mistakes her family has made in recounting their memories. Perhaps because of this it seems like we don’t get the whole story. In the end this memoir is about its narrator’s pilgrimage to make peace with the past. I feel Lee’s journey is accomplished with uneven levels of literary success. This shortlisted Canada Reads 2021 is so far my least favourite despite my love of a good background "family" story and the beautiful nature imagery it conjured up in my mind's eye.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This book was a combination of family history, memoir, and the sociopolitical and geographical history of Taiwan. The writing was beautiful and I definitely want to visit Taiwan now. Some of the more technical/scientific components about geography and botany were a bit tricky in audiobook format, and I would have maybe done this as a physical book in retrospect.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Burns

    I lived in Taiwan so I think I found this book much more interesting then I would have if I hadn’t. It’s very dense and talks a lot about nature and I often had to make myself slow down to really savour the writing and not just skip through some of it. I did enjoy the book though especially the family relationship parts and found it quite moving.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Earle

    I liked this more than I thought I would I would say that this is peek Canada reads memoir. It was lyrical I think I would have connected more with the story if it was more linear I learned a lot about Taiwan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Heather(Gibby)

    I listened to this as an audiobook. Although there is certainly a lot of information on the history of Taiwan and the state of much of its flora and fauna, I didn't find these details overpowered the basic story of the discovery the author's own family history. I listened to this as an audiobook. Although there is certainly a lot of information on the history of Taiwan and the state of much of its flora and fauna, I didn't find these details overpowered the basic story of the discovery the author's own family history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sunni C. | vanreads

    I really loved this one! A proper review to come

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sachi Argabright

    TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST is a memoir focused on discovering Lee’s Taiwanese heritage through the country’s expansive nature and mountain ranges. After unearthing part of her grandfather’s memoir, she decides to return to Taiwan to explore her history, the terrain, and a link to long lost family members. This memoir was the first book I read that focused so closely on Taiwan as a key element of the story. The book flips back and forth between Lee’s family stories, and the history and colonization o TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST is a memoir focused on discovering Lee’s Taiwanese heritage through the country’s expansive nature and mountain ranges. After unearthing part of her grandfather’s memoir, she decides to return to Taiwan to explore her history, the terrain, and a link to long lost family members. This memoir was the first book I read that focused so closely on Taiwan as a key element of the story. The book flips back and forth between Lee’s family stories, and the history and colonization of Taiwan through Lee’s many hikes within the landscape. I loved hearing about Lee’s family and the discoveries made alongside her mother in many cases. The only thing I wish I would’ve known before I read this, is that the nature details are very technical. You can tell Lee is an environmental historian, and she really knows her stuff. Sometimes I got lost in the long descriptions of certain plants or wildlife, and while they were interesting some of these sections were too long for me. If you love nature, this is definitely the book for you! Great for those who love memoirs, or those who want to learn more about Taiwan and its terrain.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica S

    4.5 I’m glad I picked up this book. I really got through it so quickly. There’s a lot that the author both articulates here and which you can read between the lines that just resonates – about being Taiwanese and Chinese, being of the diaspora, trying to uncover your family history, and of the divides and bridges of language, history, family, and home. It’s a must read for diasporic Taiwanese and Taiwanese Chinese folks. The book is a great and interesting blend of memoir, travel writing, and bot 4.5 I’m glad I picked up this book. I really got through it so quickly. There’s a lot that the author both articulates here and which you can read between the lines that just resonates – about being Taiwanese and Chinese, being of the diaspora, trying to uncover your family history, and of the divides and bridges of language, history, family, and home. It’s a must read for diasporic Taiwanese and Taiwanese Chinese folks. The book is a great and interesting blend of memoir, travel writing, and botany/nature writing. However, many of the botanical and more scientific sections pulled me out of the flow and just weren’t that interesting to me. When it was contextualized, the sections were better, but the nitty gritty about plants types or whatever just aren’t interesting to me. I appreciated the author’s insights, as well as her experiences with hiking. But as someone struggling with my scoliosis, it was sometimes hard to read too. I want to be able to do those hikes, but I can’t right now, and that creates its own kind of aching sadness in me. Additionally, for all the scientific information and historical context and research, as well as the book being highlighted for its “anticolonial reclamation,” I was really disappointed by the lack of real attention paid to indigenous/aboriginal knowledge and not enough time spent on the indigenous population. Every once in a while, it’s thrown in there or the author mentions how colonizers viewed the indigenous population, but that’s it. I understand that her family history (mainlanders who fled to Taiwan) and acknowledge that it reflects a lot of my own family history, but it’s clear that Lee did so much research. So why do we still focus mostly on what colonial powers thought and recorded? What about indigenous knowledge of plants? Their names for native species? At the end of the day, this book will stick with me for a long time and continues to encourage me to learn more about my family history and to learn about Taiwanese history. (Though, if you’re curious about popular Taiwanese street foods, I wrote about some of my favorites.) The ending could have been stronger and my critique above is really important to remember and to keep in mind, but I would highly recommend picking this book up.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emilee (emileereadsbooks)

    Thank you to Catapult for a free digital copy. ⁣ “Our history stretched across places imprecisely until our borders grew too hazy to define.” ⁣ “Taipei was a city that belonged to my childhood imagination. Built of words spoken quietly to me by my mother, its streets were paved with her longings. The air was made of memories.” ⁣ This book is an ode to Taiwan of the past, present, and future. Reading this book I was transported to the island that Lee travels to to discover her family history. This book Thank you to Catapult for a free digital copy. ⁣ “Our history stretched across places imprecisely until our borders grew too hazy to define.” ⁣ “Taipei was a city that belonged to my childhood imagination. Built of words spoken quietly to me by my mother, its streets were paved with her longings. The air was made of memories.” ⁣ This book is an ode to Taiwan of the past, present, and future. Reading this book I was transported to the island that Lee travels to to discover her family history. This book has beautiful language and I even had to look up more than a handful of words to figure out the meaning. It’s just next level writing. This is a beautiful marriage between a book of nature writing, and a family history memoir.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    author reflects on migrant family history, shown through the lens of two return trips to Taiwan, mixed with known parents' and grandparents' stories and some secrets revealed through lost relatives and grandfather's rambling missive as he succumbed to dementia. touches on the natural environment, the mountains and plants as she hikes on the island, also on the colonial history - but the detail here felt unnecessarily vague to me, and on the written language. author reflects on migrant family history, shown through the lens of two return trips to Taiwan, mixed with known parents' and grandparents' stories and some secrets revealed through lost relatives and grandfather's rambling missive as he succumbed to dementia. touches on the natural environment, the mountains and plants as she hikes on the island, also on the colonial history - but the detail here felt unnecessarily vague to me, and on the written language.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    I was really intrigued by the title and synopsis of this book and picked up a copy from my local bookstore. Soon afterwards it was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021 and I was even more excited to read it! Two Trees Make a Forest is Canadian author Jessica J. Lee's second book. As the name suggests, it's about her travels in Taiwan whilst trying to learn more about her grandparents past. Her grandparents were both Chinese, but immigrated to Taiwan where they raised their daughter, before eventuall I was really intrigued by the title and synopsis of this book and picked up a copy from my local bookstore. Soon afterwards it was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021 and I was even more excited to read it! Two Trees Make a Forest is Canadian author Jessica J. Lee's second book. As the name suggests, it's about her travels in Taiwan whilst trying to learn more about her grandparents past. Her grandparents were both Chinese, but immigrated to Taiwan where they raised their daughter, before eventually all settling in Canada. Lee grew up in close proximity to her grandparents, yet in many ways felt like she didn't really know them. They talked little about the past and though her family held a close connection to Taiwan, Lee knew very little about their life there. After the death of her grandfather, the family discovered a letter he left behind about his past, inspiring Lee to visit Taiwan and learn more about both her family history, and the unique history of the island. This was a well written book, but it was a struggle for me to finish it. I found Lee's stories about her grandparents and family to be really interesting, however, they are really only a small piece of this book. Revisiting the title of the book, it does tell us that this book is as much about "Taiwan's mountains and coasts" as it is about her family, but I guess I was just expecting something a little different. This is not a story of Lee following her roots around Taiwan, but rather Lee finding herself around Taiwan, while simultaneously coming to terms with the family history that has been in many ways lost to her. Lee is an interesting storyteller and the book focuses just as much on Taiwan's geographical history as it does her personal history. She talks about the history of the island the geographical uniqueness of it. Her love for Taiwan certainly shines through and I did learn some interesting facts about Taiwan and it's history, but I also learned a lot more about Taiwan's trees and mountains than I really bargained for. On paper, as an avid hiker, you would think I'd love it, but I'm not really a big non-fiction reader, and certainly not a history reader, so it just didn't quite deliver on something I was excited about reading. So it's a bit of a hard book to rate because I did think it was good, I just wasn't invested in it. I read everything about her family history, but I ended up skim reading a lot of the geographical information. Good, just not for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dani (The Pluviophile Writer)

    “The gaps that bind us span more than the distances between words.”2/5 stars. ebook, 271 pages. Read from February 4, 2021 to February 9, 2021. Review at The Pluviophile Writer: https://bit.ly/2ZNi0TD My second of five of the Canada Reads 2021 selection that will be championed by Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman in the debates that take place in March. I know, I’m behind but I’ve been up to my ears in essays. I was really looking forward to reading this memoir and learning a bit more about Tai “The gaps that bind us span more than the distances between words.”2/5 stars. ebook, 271 pages. Read from February 4, 2021 to February 9, 2021. Review at The Pluviophile Writer: https://bit.ly/2ZNi0TD My second of five of the Canada Reads 2021 selection that will be championed by Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman in the debates that take place in March. I know, I’m behind but I’ve been up to my ears in essays. I was really looking forward to reading this memoir and learning a bit more about Taiwan. I really wanted to love this book but it fell flat for me. The author is a first-generation Canadian and after finding a partial memoir from her grandfather she decides to embark on a journey to Taiwan to explore her family connections and history. The story floats between gorgeous and descriptive nature scenes as the author hikes through different parts of Taiwan, all while intermingling the details of her family’s personal history throughout. Her grandparents were originally from China but when the cultural revolution happened they relocated to Taiwan where her grandfather took up work as a pilot. The family then moved to Canada where the author was born. After her grandfather left, in his old age and on his own, to return to Taiwan no one really knew what he did with his final years as his health failed him. The author makes efforts to reconnect with her language and Chinese heritage to get a full understanding and appreciation of her family’s past and to place her own identity. While the writing of this book was descriptive and engaging at points, the story’s timeline was all over the place, jumping from the past to her current excursions in Taiwan. The descriptions of Taiwan were sometimes enthralling and made you feel like you were in Taiwan but I felt that they went on too long as I was more interested in the family history which, I didn’t feel had enough of a presence. The book left me feeling like I had an incomplete picture of her family and I wanted to know more. Ultimately, this story is about the author’s journey but it reads and feels more like a journal than a novel. I wanted to like this novel more but I found it a bit boring if I’m honest. It’s not a terrible read, it’s just not as engaging as I was hoping it would be. In terms of the theme for Canada Reads this year, One Book To Transport Us, this book does seem an appropriate fit with the way it makes you feel like you’re on a hike in Taiwan as well as transporting back to a time in Chinese history. We will see what the other contenders bring to the table. The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021, hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio One, CBC TV, CBC Gem and on CBC Books. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Website

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