The Roots of the Tree, written by Amanda Roberts, is a fictional, but most likely based on real events, melodrama about a family thrown into turmoil upon the discovery that all is not what it seemed in the family archives. Annie had nursed both her beloved parents in the later years of their lives and had no reason to doubt her past. Yet in the days following her father’s funeral Annie makes a shocking discovery which brings into question all the memories she held dear.
As she sinks deeper into despair, it falls to her eldest daughter Suzie to gather up her courage and mobilise all those around her to find the truth in a past that is fraught with red tape.
Centred around the family of Annie Yates, the 63 year old daughter of Elsie and Frank Barrett, the story unfolds as an episode of “Who do you think you are?” as the family go on a journey of discovery as they try to unravel the mystery of a lost past. Annie is a manicured, organised, professional divorcee who has not only cared for both ageing parents, raised two well appointed daughters and stayed on talking terms with her ex-husband, she is what one would call, an accomplished woman. That is until she discovers a mismatch in the dates of her parents’ marriage certificate and a photo frame engraving housing a photograph of them on their 50th wedding anniversary. Knowing her own birth date to between the two dates Annie realises that the man she had called ‘Father’ all her life quite possibly was not her real father. But who was he? And why in 63 years had no one told Annie the truth about him?
Alternating between present day, give or take ten years, and the first half of the 20th Century, The Roots of the Tree gives remarkable insight into the process of tracking undiscovered family history while creating a bond with a family who could easily be your own. For anyone who has not been in a similar situation it would be difficult to identify with the extreme, and at times violent, reaction Annie has towards her father when she discovers by chance, or possibly not, that he is not her real father and worse still that her real father might still be alive. This, set against the level-headed, pragmatic approach to investigating the truth amid family domesticity that Suzie takes, proves a hybrid of complex emotions that one could only imagine when embarking on such a voyage of discovery so close to home.
Told in third person, the storyteller gets inside the head of all the principle characters, some more convincingly than others, as the plot unfolds through dialogue, letters, newspaper articles, official records and of course the first hand, but often hazy memories of those still living. The most skillful of the character developments being that of Annie’s real father, a young enlisted soldier in the second world war, shedding remarkable light on a part of British history that many who had lived through it might prefer to forget.
Based on a true account or not we are never told, but the reader can easily imagine the reality of such a story within the present day obsession of looking into one’s ancestral history in the hope of unearthing a secret past. However, for Annie and her family, they had not gone looking, the past came looking for them and with it a whole new perspective on life presented itself.
From dealing with past memories to how to get copies of ancestral documentation The Roots of the Tree is a must read for anyone looking for a complex story, simply told.