1944, British Mandate Palestine, Tonia’s parents take her and her brother and sister to live on Kfar Etzion, an isolated and struggling religious kibbutz south of Jerusalem. Fifteen-year-old Tonia does not believe that her father’s dream – a sovereign Jewish state – will ever come to be. Life on the kibbutz is harsh, and Tonia dreams of security and a little comfort, though material wealth for its own sake is not what she longs for. She wants something simple – to bring up her children under a roof of her own, in a place where they won’t feel constantly threatened. She is determined to seek this different life in America, as soon as she is old enough – even though that means turning her back on her love for Amos Amrani, a handsome young Yemenite who belongs to the Jewish underground.
Much of this novel takes place in Kfar Etzion, during its establishment, siege, and fall to the Arab Legion during hostilities immediately prior to Israel’s War of Independence – resulting in the massacre of its surviving defenders. A later part of the story is set in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Tonia tries to find her new life.
This is one of very few English novels that take place in British Mandate Palestine and the only one that tells the story of Kfar Etzion. While the characters are fictional, historical events are accurately portrayed. The Lonely Tree, however, does not read like a history book. It is a character-driven love story with no political agenda.
The Lonely Tree of the title still stands today.
The day that Tonia Shulman first noticed Amos had begun as an ordinary one. When her tenth-grade Civics class – and the school day – finally ended she stretched and looked at her watch.
'Feel like going to Café Atara for coffee and cake?' Ilana Rozmann swiveled in her seat to face Tonia.
Tonia shook her head. 'Can't. No time.' She had heard that the gooey chocolate cake they served was delicious, but she had to catch her bus back to the kibbutz. Besides, she had no money.
Ilana shook her wavy blonde hair and ran the fingers of her right hand through it. 'My treat,' she offered.
Tonia felt her face flush as she stood up. 'No. Thanks, but I can't. Have to work today.' The last thing she wanted, today of all days, was Ilana Rozmann, or any of the Rozmann family, paying for anything else for her.
Ilana slid sideways from beneath the battered, ink-stained wooden desk. 'More fields to clear?' She raised her eyebrows and stared at the scrapes and cuts on Tonia's hands.read more