Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sunday Book Review

THE PLUM TREE by Ellen Marie Wiseman

review by Barbara Claypole White

Tomorrow is the launch of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s stunning debut novel, The Plum Tree, which earned a 4.5* and a Top Pick rating from Romantic Times. “It's an original and important addition to the World War II canon,” says the RT review. It’s easy to see why.

The Plum Tree opens in an idyllic German village in 1938.  Seventeen-year-old Christine, a maid in the house of a wealthy Jewish family, is guarding a secret: She and the son of her employer are in love. They assume class is the greatest hurdle they will have to face…

I’ll be honest, I had mixed feelings about reading The Plum Tree. As the wife of a Jew and the mother of a teenager who would have been considered impure by the Nazis, I struggle with anything that circles the Holocaust. However, as a Brit, I grew up on firsthand stories of hardship during the Second World War. It was always the stories of everyday actions—some heroic, some not—that resonated with me: a tale my mother’s gardener told from when he was a medic on a Red Cross ship and a German U boat gave them safe passage; my mother’s memory of eating her first banana after rationing.

And here’s what I loved most about The Plum Tree—the level of detail with which Ms Wiseman takes us inside the lives of ordinary Germans during the war. (As a history major, I'm a sucker for research.) For example:

“They were sitting around the table, eating the bland meal that had become the core of their winter diets: watered-down goat’s milk, boiled potatoes and turnip soup. They missed the days when Mutti used to leave cow’s milk in an earthen crock on the cellar steps for three days, until it soured and turned into the consistency of pudding…”

But The Plum Tree is more than just a glimpse into rural family life during the Second World War. It’s also a thumping good read. Christine’s love affair creates a story of survival, courage, and resilience in one of the darkest moments of history. The Plum Tree spans the length of the war and is far from over when the Allies liberate Germany. Christine is a fabulous heroine—noble and kind—and once I hit the half-way mark, you could not have wrestled her from me with a crowbar. Really.

Even though the novel goes deep into the human evil at Dachau, the story is layered with the shades of grey that exist during war. Christine’s grandmother, for example, is wary of the Americans, and the American soldiers are suspicious of Christine when she asks for their help. Without giving away spoilers, events toward the end of the novel filled me with indignation for the treatment of German prisoners. As Christine’s father says, “War makes victims all.”

The Plum Tree is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. For more information on Ellen and the story behind the story, visit her website:

Barbara Claypole White is the author of  The Unfinished Garden, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt. Originally from England, she lives in the North Carolina Forest with her family and a ridiculously large woodland garden.


  1. Sounds like a great read, Barbara. Congrats to Ellen on her Christmas Eve debut! I'm always intrigued by stories that use times of unrest as the backdrop. Thanks for the review!

  2. Thank you so, so much for this wonderful review!!

  3. I found myself enjoying this book more than I didn't. The author has serious talent, and her ability to place the reader in the time and place she's writing about is astounding. You can almost smell the smoke, see the desolation, hear the cries and weeping. The Plum Tree has some of the best atmospheric and scenic writing I've ever read.

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  4. Wiseman eschews the genre's usual military conflicts in favor of the slow, inexorable pressure of daily life during wartime, lending an intimate and compelling poignancy to this intriguing debut.

  5. The novel manuscript provide us too much information. It is very difficult to write a novel but it is a very excellent work to write. Great job well! This also very very interesting book.