Reviewed by Jennifer Joyce
Christine Bolz is a seventeen year old German girl on the brink of starting her first relationship. Isaac Bauerman is the son of a wealthy lawyer and aristocrat, who employs Christine and her mother to cook and clean their home. Coming from completely different worlds, Christine and Isaac shouldn’t be together but they are in love. Matters are made worse when the Nazi party gain power in Germany and it is not only class keeping them apart anymore as relationships between Jews and non-Jews are forbidden. Isaac and his family, once prominent figures in the community, begin to lose their rights and their situation worsens as World War Two breaks out. Christine refuses to give up Isaac and they agree to meet in secret, hoping the war will end soon so they can be together properly.
But the war rages on and everybody is affected, from those drafted to fight to those left behind to deal with rationing and air raids. And then Jewish families start to disappear from the village, along with Isaac and his family. Already stripped of their wealth, possessions and the right to call themselves citizens of Germany, the Bauermans are being transported to a work camp and there is nothing they, or Christina, can do about it. Christina has no choice but to get on with her life, helping her mother and grandparents take care of her younger siblings, but she never forgets about Isaac and later, when the opportunity arises, Christina risks everything – her own life and her whole family’s lives – to help the man she loves.
The Plum Tree is a heart-breaking tale of love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect those they care about. I’m more used to reading and watching stories about the war from a British perspective, so it was an interesting change to learn about the German civilian’s point of view and the hardships they faced. Of course I already knew about the Holocaust, so it was uncomfortable reading the events unfolding knowing what was to come. The Plum Tree is an emotional read, but there are glimmers of inspiration and strength too, most notably from Christina and the courage she displays when fighting for what she believes in. She refuses to give in, even when her future couldn’t look bleaker. Her love for Isaac and her family drives Christina and keeps her going, despite what is thrown at her and her knowing the consequences of her actions.
What I liked most about The Plum Tree was the fact that part of the story takes place after the war, when there should have been peace and yet there was still conflict and soldiers as the country tried to pull itself together. The end of the war wasn’t the end of the story for Germany and it wasn’t the end of Christina’s story either. Her struggle, heartache and grief continues even after the bombs have stopped dropping.
I really enjoyed Ellen Marie Wiseman’s writing, it's rich in history and facts as well as the raw emotions of those involved. My only problem with the book was the way German words were used for a lot of things, followed by the English translation and while it was interesting to see the German translation, it didn’t work within the book for me and slowed down the flow of the story.
Ellen Marie Wiseman's Website