Author: Rebecca Rasmussen
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 334
First line: Eveline LeMay came after the water.
Goodreads blurb: It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost.
I’ve started – and stopped – writing this review several times, but all of the phrases I want to use to describe Evergreen sound like cliches. “Lyrical,” “hauntingly beautiful,” heartbreaking yet hopeful” – all cliches that I’ve read in reviews of other works of literary fiction, and yet they are still the words and phrases that come to mind when I think of how I felt about this book. I turned the last page this afternoon, reading the final words through tears. I loved this book, and while I loved the ending, I was so sad to say goodbye to the characters.
This is a multi-generational novel, one which vividly demonstrates the way one act of violence, and one resulting choice, can echo down through the years. Eveline knows that she couldn’t raise her second baby, couldn’t live with a visible reminder of a vicious rape. And yet she is still haunted with guilt and shame over her decision to abandon the girl child on the steps of an orphanage – and that guilt is only increased when she realizes that the girl’s upbringing is not a happy one.
Naamah gets away from the orphanage and the evil and sick Sister Cordelia at age fourteen, but the damage has already done. Sister Cordelia has spent years teaching Naamah to feel wicked and evil, to doubt her own worth. Her choices out in the world reflect that mindset, and even when she is blessed with the love of a good man, she is unable to shake off the shackles of her past.
The characters in Evergreen are all lovely, and yet Hux is the one who will stay with me long after I forget the minute details of this book. His love for his sister, and his desire to see her whole, simply drip from his pages. The other thing I loved about his character is his friendship and history with Gunther, and the way they accepted each other even though they were completely different. It is rare to read of such an authentic friendship between two men.
I am glad that I was able to read Evergreen, so I can tell all of you how gorgeous it is. This is definitely one that is not to be missed.