“‘You know, Chrisnelt, if you want to see a real tree of truth, the biggest in the City, I should take you to the one at its heart. At the rising place, where all the streets meet all the boulevards in the very middle, where once, long ago, a small clearing held the huts of a village that made its own rain and sunshine. That Christmas tree has lived there for almost one hundred years now. It stands very quietly, only telling the truth at Christmas-time. I call it Africa’s Tree. My own father told me that the city officials back then, the elders from many places and tribes, had met before his birth – in a time of bizarre blizzards, when things were decreed by white people – to plan the careful planting. You see that one, and it’ll help you grow your tree.’
It all begins when Chrisnelt, the main character, loses his dear friend in a terrible accident. In the bleak, grey, huge city he lives in, the little boy starts imagining a world beyond this concrete world with the help of books. A hungry reader, he also starts imagining what the world could be like outside the human-built citadel. With the help of his family and some close friends, he then begins cultivating his own garden, his own oasis of peace and freedom in the midst of an artificial world made of concrete. His Tree, a paradise for birds, becomes not only a metaphor of hope, but also a way of expressing his concern for the future. However, when Pastor Kadazi gets interested in his gardening, the cost of Chrisnelt’s dream Tree may comes with a very high cost.
In this narrative that mixes ancestral African beliefs and envirnomental issues in a poetic language, Vernon Head passes a very strong ecological message for our times. This beautiful story about books, trees, birds and rivers is also an inner journey that helps Chrisnelt heal and (re)connect with the people and the world. Head pays an homage to his African roots and to the vision of the African Kow tribe who believe that nature is central to both community and individual life and to inner balance.
With its sheer fragile beauty and its infinite resilience, nature is not only the background of the narrative, it is also a character. In Head’s own words, “the African story must include nature. (…) Nature is all about connections.”
A Tree for the Birds by Vernon R. L. Head
978-1-4314-2777-2 / Jacana (2018)
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She has a PhD in Nigerian postcolonial literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is also the author of a collection of short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. Trilingual in Romanian, French and English, she teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.