On the map of human hopes, at the crossroads between day and dusk, stands the White Villa, lost in thought. Sheltered by a cluster of leafy elms, it stands on the outskirts of the city of Seven-Smiles, where churchbells mingle with evening psalms and tomorrow’s songs. It is the residence of the once well-known Albert and Rena Milder and their only son Jan, a family of silk-weavers who belonged to the ancient community of Sojourners.
Thanks to his parents’ social status and public benevolence, Jan was granted entry to the city’s most coveted high school, where people of his kind were seldom admitted. Within no time the school authorities discovered that young Jan possessed not only an inborn intelligence but a magnificent learning ability and a strong sense of fair play. He was also exceptionally handsome, and a head taller than his classmates. These attributes, along with his parents’ ongoing generosity, quickly made him the darling of the school.
Jan grows from childhood to adulthood across the pages of The Hollow Tree. He is born into a wealthy family who are well regarded in their community. He himself is intelligent and very popular. Life is wonderful. But the world around him is changing in inexplicable ways. The maturing Jan becomes aware of an absence in his life, although he struggles to define it. The protective shield that his father has been able to weave around the family with his planning and generosity is penetrable. Jan breaks through the pattern established for him, at the same time as the social structure around him alters. Little in his childhood or youth could prepare him for the tumultuous times that follow.
The Hollow Tree is lyrical and otherworldly in the way of the best fairy tales. It is at once foreign and immensely familiar. It follows one boy, Jan, from childhood and struggles with him through the challenges that shape him as an adult. It examines the choices he makes and their consequences for himself and for those around him. The language is rich and poetic. Thematically, the power of love is explored in detail: familial love, love for a partner, friendship, love for a cultural group, and where love of an idea is manipulated into something much more sinister. The Hollow Tree is set in a fictional landscape, but the experience is unfortunately well-bedded in history. Recommended for mature readers.
The Hollow Tree, Jacob G. Rosenberg
Allen & Unwin 2009
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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