The Tulip Tree by Suzanne McCourt

‘Perhaps we only ever have one true chance at anything and the rest, if offered, is always second best.’

Henryk and Adam (Adi) Radecki are brothers. Their relationship is complex and competitive and is set against the tumultuous background of Poland’s relationship with Russia and the impact of World War II. Their story unfolds over thirty years: starting in the 1920s and ending in Australia’s Snowy Mountains in 1954.

Henryk, unhappily married, becomes a rich and successful industrialist. Adi, a devoted veterinarian, marries, is widowed, and then remarries. His second wife, Elzbieta, reminds many of his first wife Kasia. Elzbieta (Ela) and her son, Stefan, are at the centre of this story full of tragedy and family secrets. Each of the main characters will have cause to reflect on choices made and their consequences. Adi, shaped by time spent in Kazakhstan and the death of Kasia, can be difficult. Henryk is competitive, and this has far-reaching consequences.

We follow the characters through heartbreak, loss and tragedy, experiencing both aspects of World War II and the communist rule of Poland with them. It is an emotional ride, full of frailty and triumph. I was drawn into the novel by Adi, held there by Kasia and Ela, and reminded of Poland’s turbulent history. Ms McCourt imbues her characters with life, rendering them human against a backdrop of change and suffering.

I enjoyed this novel and am still thinking about some of the characters and their choices.

‘He closed his eyes and saw his tulip tree in that Tajik village all those years ago, its gaunt reaching arms.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith