First published in 1989, The Tree of the Seventh Heaven was awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in Milton Hatoum’s native Brazil (the Jabuti for the best Brazilian novel) and has since established his reputation in Europe. A captivating blend of the outrageuous and the poignant, it recounts the lives of a large, unruly, and singular family of Lebanese emigrants to Manaus, a lush city isolated by the water and jungle of the Amazon.
When Emilie, the matriarch, dies, the stage is set for each member of the family to step forward, to tell his or her own story, recalling old secrets, bitter feuds, obsessive relationships, the collision of East agains West, Christianity against Islam. We learn of Hanna, Emilie’s husband, and his unprecedented decision to leave Lebanon for Brazil early in the twentieth century… of Emilie’s persistent attachment to her homeland (evidenced in the profusion of mint, lamb, and figs in her kitchen and by her instructing her eldest son in Arabic)… of Uncle Emir’s mysterious and unfathomable suicide… of the illegitimate deaf-mute child Soraya Ângela… of the German photographer and constant friend Dorner, who roamed Manaus clicking his Hasselblad and furiously writing in his notebook… of Uncle Hakim, who has tried his best to unravel the families’ secrets… and the narrator, a woman adopted by Emilie and just recently returned from a long sojourn in Barcelona.
As the narrative baton is passed back and forth, the voices of The Tree of the Seventh heaven are woven together, lyrically and evocatively, yielding to us the indelible texture of very human lives.