The Plum Trees

  • Review
By – March 22, 2021

In Vic­to­ria Shorr’s third nov­el, The Plum Trees, the author tells a mov­ing sto­ry inspired by her own family’s his­to­ry. Con­sie returns home to Ohio for a funer­al, but when she inad­ver­tent­ly dis­cov­ers an old let­ter detail­ing the pos­si­ble escape of her great-uncle from Auschwitz she becomes deeply inter­est­ed in the vicious events that are etched into her family’s past. This his­to­ry comes alive as the author takes us back to 1940s Europe, where the major­i­ty of the sto­ry unfolds as great-uncle Her­mann, his wife, and three daugh­ters expe­ri­ence the Holo­caust first- hand.

Con­sie becomes obsessed with learn­ing what hap­pened to her great-uncle in the bru­tal final year of World War II, scour­ing records, data­bas­es, and oral inter­views with Holo­caust sur­vivors. By shift­ing focus from Consie’s present to the 1940s, the author shows how Consie’s con­cepts of present and past merge togeth­er. Shorr wants to high­light the impor­tance of fam­i­ly his­to­ry to our iden­ti­ties. This is espe­cial­ly true for Jews whose ances­tors endured the hor­rors of the Holo­caust. Like many oth­ers, Con­sie strug­gles to find facts, truths, and sense in the retelling of a sense­less time in history.

Through­out the nar­ra­tive, plum trees and plums rep­re­sent home, fam­i­ly, con­nec­tion, and child­hood for the char­ac­ters, begin­ning with the plum trees at Hermann’s home in Czecho­slo­va­kia. Even Con­sie, who loved shar­ing plums with her grand­fa­ther in her youth, finds the con­nec­tion to her her­itage and famil­ial roots through plums. It’s some sev­en­ty years lat­er and the sym­bol­ic fruit holds as much mean­ing for Con­sie as it did for Her­mann and his daughters.

The Plum Trees is a pow­er­ful sto­ry of famil­ial his­to­ry and the hold that the past has over us today. The all-con­sum­ing search for answers is a com­mon thread for fam­i­lies who have been affect­ed by the Holo­caust. Shorr man­ages to depict this dynam­ic by blur­ring the dis­tinc­tion between present and past, a tech­nique that demon­strates the unde­ni­able sig­nif­i­cance of ances­tral trau­ma on cur­rent and future gen­er­a­tions. Con­sie uncov­ers a lot of answers, while a lot of ques­tions remain unan­swered. The pow­er of this nov­el is that the pro­tag­o­nist strength­ens her con­nec­tion to her fam­i­ly and her ances­try through her curios­i­ty and the jour­ney on which her inves­ti­ga­tion takes her.

Discussion Questions