This was another long list finalist for the 2018 Man Booker awards, and the premise of the book really grabbed me, so I took a gamble. And I’m glad I did.
The Overstory starts by introducing us to a variety of everyday people, nine of them, each with their own separate story and all of whom have a connection to trees (though they may not be aware of it). We have a scientist who studies trees, a young Chinese woman whose father leaves behind a curious heirloom, a young computer genius, a Vietnam vet, a young woman who dies and comes back to life with a renewed purpose, an artist who inherits a multi-generational tree photography project and others.
At first, it seems like this is a book of unrelated short stories, which kind of surprised me given that the Man Booker, as of this time, does not allow for short story collections. But once we meet everyone in the first part of the book, we then see how they are or will become linked by their connection to trees and in the process, their lives will be changed forever.
This was such an interesting approach to storytelling — linking a group of disparate characters via trees and through this link, telling a remarkable and unforgettable story of the relationship between trees and humans. And along the way, we as the reader learn some pretty amazing facts about trees, data that have only recently been confirmed by scientists. I recall reading about one of the findings outlined in this book several years ago and found it utterly amazing. Yes, I’m an old tree hugger from way back.
The Overstory paints a vivid picture of the effects of humans on the planet and what that might mean for our future. Through our nine characters and the poetry of Powers’ writing, we dive deep into the old ancient forests, the lives of individual trees, our connection to the trees and the forests, and the connection of trees to each other and the entire planet.
There are a plethora of themes to this book: life, death, connection to the world around us, people fighting for what’s right, greed, tragedy, our place in the natural world and hope. After reading this book, I can say that I’ll never look at trees the same way again and in this way, it’s sort of a wake-up call — a call urging us to try and see life from a different perspective to back the balance.
The Overstory is not a book with a fairy tale ending; in fact, it will break your heart. But it’s not entirely without hope either. The Overstory will make you angry at times and is a story that will stay in your mind for a long time after having closed the book. It has for me, and I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon.
Though it was at times a difficult book to read, it was also one of the most beautifully written books that I’ve read in a long time: lyrical, poetic, moving and enlightening with the potential to be life-altering.
Hell, it might even make you want to run out and a hug a tree afterward. All in all, a powerful thought-provoking story that I ended up loving.
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