Books Culture

Le journal intime d’un arbre by Didier Van Cauwelaert

18 April 2017
Le journal intime d'un arbre

I don’t often review French novels, as 90% of the books I read are English or American. But I am half French after all, so it’s time I gave French literature a little love too! I am happy to present Le journal intime d’un arbre (or Secret Diary of a Tree), a 200 page novel I first heard about on the French blog Friendly Beauty. If you speak a little French, I hope you’ll give this novel a try!

Description of Journal intime d’un arbre

“My name is Tristan, I am 300 years old and I have experienced all kinds of human emotions. I fell over at sunrise this morning. A new life awaits me, but in what form? Will my consciousness live on in the logs I will be chopped into, or in the statuette a young girl has carved into my wood?

Shifting between the secrets of my past and the surprises of my present, and linked despite myself to the destiny of two lovers who both deeply care about me, I am trying to understand why I have survived. Do I have a mission, a means of acting upon the destiny of those who loved me?”

My opinion

This book is based on a unique and rather extraordinary idea. Author David Van Cauwelaert deftly describes Tristan the pear tree’s thoughts and emotions after he is uprooted during a particularly nasty storm that puts an end to 300 years spent contemplating human life.

The reader quickly gets attached to this personified tree that absorbs and analyses human emotions. Tristan is a sensitive, intelligent character who is worried about what his future holds. Many other (human) characters get comfort from the pear tree that in his turn thinks quietly about subjects such as religion, racism and the human condition.

Le journal intime d’un arbre has many good qualities: a unique initial idea, a gentle and fluid writing style and several endearing characters. However, I unfortunately got bored of the story halfway through. A certain event (that I will not name here) changes things for Tristan and from that point on, I felt that the story lost its way. In my opinion, it goes in an unusual and unexpected direction that takes the reader too far away from the initial storyline.

The novel quickly loses its initial gentle vibe: Tristan uncovers dark secrets that seem important at the time but that end up having next to impact on the characters. Le journal intime d’un arbre paints a very dark future for human kind, even though the author tries to give a spark of hope to the reader.

The environmental message is clear: it is urgent that we learn how to respect the planet, nature and the soil we live on. Giving such a rich interior life to a pear tree, as well as its branches, bark, seeds, pollen and fruit encourages the reader to give more importance to the gifts nature produces every day. This novel taught me many surprising things about trees and their vital functions, and left me wanting to learn more.

Have you read Le journal intime d’un arbre or a different novel with similar themes? What did you think?

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