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Check It Out: Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

This is Kelsey Patterson with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today, I’m recommending a genre-shattering book encompassing history, travel, nature, and memoir, called Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee, one of twelve books featured for Adult Summer Reading 2022.

After unearthing a hidden cache of autobiographical letters written by her late grandfather, Lee travels to her ancestral homeland of Taiwan. There, she seeks to piece together the fragments of her family’s history while growing closer to the land they knew. Lee hikes mountains home to Formosan flamecrests, birds found nowhere else on earth, and swims in a lake of drowned cedars. She bikes flatlands where spoonbills alight by fish farms and learns about a tree whose fruit can float in the ocean for years awaiting landfall.

She finds herself having to traverse fissures in language, memory, and history, as she unearths surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family and their beloved island. Passionately attentive to the natural world, Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonial explorers who mapped the land and named plants, relying on and often blotting out the labor and knowledge of local communities.

After reading this memoir, I can 100% see why it has been shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize and already named by The Guardian as one of their Best Books of the Year. This extraordinary narrative is such a subtle yet powerful exploration of the relationship between people and place, with a constantly humming current asking the question, what makes a homeland?

A perfect fit for this year’s summer reading theme: Read Beyond the Beaten Path, check out Two Trees Make a Forest or one of the other titles on this year’s book list from the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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