9780349014104 Forest Grant

“The Story of the Forest” by Linda Grant

This title succinctly sums up Linda Grant’s new book as when 14 year old Mina Mendel ventures into the forest outside Riga to find mushrooms it becomes her family’s saga. Forever changing her life and the fortunes of her and her eldest brother, Jossel. The year is 1913. She meets a group of young men who are Bolsheviks. Nothing untoward happens, Mina enjoys her day and later discusses it with Jossel; she then repeats the adventure some days later, shares a chaste kiss with one young man and again returns home. However another brother, Itzik, who had overheard his siblings earlier discussion had this time followed her and misuses his information. Itzik is not a nice poerson. Jossel fears that Mina will be forced into an arranged marriage, to an older man. He overules his father, a successful Jewish córn merchant, they set sail for England to seek a new life in America. WWI intervenes and they are stranded, penniless in Liverpool, leaving their parents two younger siblings and Itzik behind.

Jossel, an innocent, is however ensnared into marriage by a fellow passenger on the voyage across the North Sea. Lia, a young widow, travelling to New York with her father to start a new life spots him as a likely new husband and soon they are married, but whilst her father can afford to sail to New York the newly marrieds have insufficient funds for three berths. They remain in lodgings, Jossel who used to do the books for his father finding some work helping local buisinesses until the war sees him eventually enlisted and sent off to fight. Mina ends up working in the canteen of an ammunitions factory.

Jossel returns unharmed from the war where he helped save the life of Louis, whose father runs a business in Leeds. Louis meets Mina proposes and they marry then he with Jossel open a Liverpool branch which flourishes. Both families prosper, have children and move out of town to the new suburbs.

Jossel’s and Mina’s stories and lives fill the book as they and their families mature. Mina tries to contact her parents without success; the second World War intervenes and all hope of contact disappears, the occassional rumour about Itzik, but nothing about her parents or the two younger children. Mina though fondly remembers her two adventures into the forest, has inclinations towards Communism because of her memories of Bolshevik lads, until the barbarity of Stalin and her comfortable provincial life mellows those allegiances. After college their daughter Paula moves for a while to London before events bring her back to Liverpool and the family coalesce as Mina’s childhood adventure is retold across the generations, throught her long life.

Linda Grant is such a good storyteller, her writing effortless reading. There is a lot in this book to enjoy, I devoured it; her depiction of events during the 20th century will please her many fans, and hopefully tempt new readers to sample her earlier novels.