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The Tree of Forgetfulness

A Novel

Yellow Shoe Fiction

200 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

ebook available


  Paperback / 9780807149720 / October 2012

In The Tree of Forgetfulness, writer Pam Durban, winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award, continues her exploration of southern history and memory. This mesmerizing and disquieting novel recovers the largely untold story of a brutal Jim Crow–era triple lynching in Aiken County, South Carolina. Through the interweaving of several characters’ voices, Durban produces a complex narrative in which each section reveals a different facet of the event. The Tree of Forgetfulness resurrects a troubled past and explores the individual and collective loyalties that led a community to choose silence over justice.

Pam Durban is the author of All Set About with Fever Trees, The Laughing Place, and So Far Back. Her stories and essays have been widely published, and her short story "Soon" was included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is Doris Betts Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina.

Praise for The Tree of Forgetfulness

"Durban's powerful, time-shifting narrative pulls us into all this darkness without ever turning maudlin or preachy and eventually turns up the light and turns this extremely ugly chapter out of our tumultuous near past into something miraculously redemptive."—Alan Cheuse, NPR

"[An] unnerving but startlingly clear depiction of the contemporary South, its history and its people."—Carolina Quarterly

"[A] hard-hitting but lyrical novel....Crisp and honeyed prose underpins this honest, well-wrought study of a community's shared guilt."—Publishers Weekly

"Durban's expertly paced, concise, and compelling read packs a mighty literary punch."—Booklist

"Durban's precise, beautifully evocative prose builds to a brief but breathtaking meditation on the true legacy of racial violence.”—Shelf Awareness

“It would be easy for a story about racist violence and guilt in the early twentieth-century South to fall under the shadow of Faulkner, but Pam Durban’s The Tree of Forgetfulness casts a clear and eerie light of its own. As her memorable characters emerge from hearsay, denial, supposition and secrecy, Durban reveals the implications of ‘complicity’ in ‘the low pressure system of the spirit’ that one South Carolina town has become following a lynching ‘so twisted nobody will ever set it straight.’ In her vivid and suspenseful novel, Durban does get it straight in such important ways that, even in the presence of tragedy, we can find reasons to rejoice.”—R. T. Smith

“In this extraordinary novel Pam Durban restores a piece of southern history nearly lost in collective amnesia. A novelist can do that, lift the past back to us by fleshing out the historical record—but only a gifted novelist can magically lift the story all the way into our living imagination and fully reveal its continuing power. The Tree of Forgetfulness draws us in—all of us bystanders—and incorporates us. Pam Durban knows the South, and she writes it true.”— Josephine Humphreys, author of Nowhere Else on Earth

The Tree of Forgetfulness combines exquisite craftsmanship with a riveting page-turner, a kind of historical /supernatural thriller that confronts the complicated racial tensions and intimacies of the American South. It consoles as only the finest novels can, by facing head on without cliché or abstraction the inherent unresolvable complexities of our nation’s racial past.”—Alan Shapiro, author of Broadway Baby   

"Sometimes a novel teaches us more about history than the history books. We may not be able to explain it, but we will understand."—Historical Novel Society


Pam Durban in conversation with D.G. Martin on North Carolina Bookwatch: Watch it here or download here.


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