Just finished reading a new book the other day, “The Little Boy in the Tree” by Roland Russoli, a memoir of his son Andrew’s life and death and Roland’s life in the Peace Corps before, during and after that loss.
First, a disclaimer. I make no claim to be an impartial reviewer. I’ve known Roland for more years than I care to count at this point. For many years when his mother came to visit I gladly shared in her homemade green noodles. I called her “Ma” and she called me “Jenny.” (Somehow she never quite got it that my name was really Peggy.)
I watched Andrew grow up from a young child to a young man. I’ve written of Andrew before in this blog. He was killed by an IED in Iraq as he was serving his second tour of duty as a Marine. Walking with his family through those first weeks was both holy and hard.
So, I come to this book with a heart already open.
Even so, I think it is a compelling book for anyone. Unlike many similar books, Andrew’s death is and isn’t the focus. Of course, it is the huge, inexplicable thread that runs throughout the pages. In a terrible moment, the focus shrinks to that single thread. But then life demands that the focus widens again. In this book we see the dance (sometimes more of a shuffle) between the loss and the life that somehow must go on.
Roland allows us into the depths of a father’s grief. One of the most poignant scenes is his trip home from Mongolia (where he was with the Peace Corps) after receiving word of Andrew’s death. He is lost in a strange airport where no one speaks his language and he does not know the way. He is lost in a world of devastating grief in which he knows neither the language nor the way.
And yet life does go on. After the funeral he returns to his foreign posts. We see him trying to learn and become familiar with cultures so completely strange to him. But we see him equally determined that in the face of his loss he will find some way to give back, to bring some gift of life, somehow, someway, to someone. Having lost his son he somehow finds the grace and courage to allow a group of orphans to enter his heart and life.
This is a well written book, and I don’t mean that in the “It’s better than I thought Roland would do” sense. By anyone’s standards, it’s a well written book with the depth of someone who has always been willing to ask questions that sometimes have no answers. It is honest with being overwrought, heartfelt without being overly sentimental.
It is a gift for all of us who knew Andrew.
It is a gift for all who have to face difficult journeys of grief.
Which is another way of saying that it’s a book for all of us. I commend it to you.