Lisa Braun struggles to understand both her own life and the tragic historic events that haunt her in this engaging new novel written in Marlis Wesseler’s characteristically understated, confiding prose.
The novel begins with Lisa heading off into a beautiful beech forest in Germany, near where her in-laws live. As she walks, she ponders the stark contrast between the peaceful forest and the notorious concentration camp, both known as Buchenwald. Her husband Gerhardt’s family has always been reticent, or maybe evasive, about the Holocaust and their family’s World War Two experiences, and Lisa has learned not to ask too many questions.
After they return to Canada, Lisa unexpectedly finds herself very alone and at loose ends, and through a series of events befriends an elderly man, Ben Meisner, who was interned in Buchenwald—and the questions she has always wanted to ask come searingly into focus. Lisa gets a closer view of unthinkable events than she bargained for, and in time Ben Meisner relies on her in a way she could never have predicted.
This wry, perceptive novel is about secrets and silences; about estrangements between family members, and gaps in understanding between well-intentioned people who struggle to bridge the distances between one another. The Beech Forest looks into the dark corners of the human heart, and brings us back out into the light of day with humour and compassion.