Canada Reads

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

Two Trees Make a Forest is a book by Jessica J. Lee.

Championed by Scott Helman

Scott Helman is championing Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee. (Submitted by Scott Helman)

Scott Helman is championing Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee on Canada Reads 2021.

Canada Reads will take place March 8-11. The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

About Two Trees Make a Forest

A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she seeks his story while growing closer to the land he 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. Throughout, Lee unearths surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family and their beloved island. Joyously attentive to the natural world, Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, relying on and often effacing the labour and knowledge of local communities.

Two Trees Make a Forest is a genre-shattering book encompassing history, travel, nature and memoir, an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. (From Hamish Hamilton)

Two Trees Make a Forest won the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Why Jessica J. Lee wrote Two Trees Make a Forest

"Even before we found my grandfather's letters and his story, I had been toying with the idea of writing my grandparents' story for a solid decade. This was around the time my grandfather developed Alzheimer's, and I became acutely aware of stories being lost.  

"I spent a few years in my early 20s, trying to write their life stories as a novel — or trying and failing I should say, as I never really figured it out. It was one of those things that I filed away and moved on from. 

I spent a few years in my early 20s, trying to write their life stories as a novel — or trying and failing I should say, as I never really figured it out.- Jessica J. Lee

"The year after I'd finished writing my first book and writing my PhD, my grandmother passed away and my mom found my grandfather's letters. That was one of those moments where I realized that what I had been trying to figure out for 10 years now has a shape. I am a writer who writes about the natural world, who writes about place — and that's actually a huge part of that story.  

"It didn't work when it was just me trying to tell my grandparents' story alone. I needed to figure out who I was in that story." 

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

Interviews with Jessica J. Lee

Jessica J. Lee won the $60,000 Writers' Trust Hilary Weston Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, for her memoir, Two Trees Make A Forest: In Search of My Family's Past Among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts. She joins us to discuss the connection between family, nature and her ancestral homeland of Taiwan. 16:09
In her memoir Two Trees Make a Forest, Canadian writer and environmental historian Jessica J. Lee returns to her mother's homeland of Taiwan to understand the landscape that shaped her family - and in turn, shapes her. The book intertwines her grandparents' histories, the political history of Taiwan and the island's geological history. She speaks with Chattopadhyay about home, multiplicity and belonging. For more, visit: www.cbc.ca/1.5729728 27:16

From the book

I was 27 when I went to Taiwan for the second time, my first visit since I was a baby. It was 2013. Gong had returned there and died a few years earlier, and my mother and I had gone to visit his remains. He had died alone, his memories wasted. It felt, to us, an irrevocable betrayal, though we'd had no say in what had happened and we couldn't have changed it. 

Decades had passed since my mother had emigrated. But the island had called my family back. My mother began to talk about returning for good when she retired. I saw the ways she had tried on a different life on a different continent, and how it bristled speaking a language she'd inherited, asking her children questions in Mandarin and receiving replies in English. We mocked her errors, as children do, and she would reply, "Well, you speak Chinese, then," jokingly, though I sensed a loss in her tone. I saw in Taiwan something of the ways that places draw us in — and sometimes push us away again — and there grew in me an inarticulate longing.


Excerpted from Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee Copyright © 2020 Jessica J. Lee. Published by Hamish Hamilton, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Other books by Jessica J. Lee

The Canada Reads 2021 contenders

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