Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family's Past Among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts

Jessica J. Lee (Author)
Pre-Order   Ships Aug 04, 2020


An exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir, rooted in the forests and flatlands of Taiwan, perfect for fans of Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations and William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she seeks his story while growing closer to the land he knew.

Lee hikes mountains home to Formosan flamecrests, birds found nowhere else on earth, and swims in a lake of drowned cedars. She bikes flatlands where spoonbills alight by fish farms, and learns about a tree whose fruit can float in the ocean for years, awaiting landfall. Throughout, Lee unearths surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family and their beloved island. Joyously attentive to the natural world, Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, relying on and often effacing the labor and knowledge of local communities.

Two Trees Make a Forest is a genre-shattering book encompassing history, travel, nature, and memoir, an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
Publish Date
August 04, 2020
5.4 X 0.9 X 8.2 inches | 0.7 pounds

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About the Author

Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author and environmental historian, and winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Author Award. She received a doctorate in environmental history and aesthetics in 2016, and her first book, Turning: A Year in the Water, was published in 2017. Jessica is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. She lives in Berlin.


Praise for Two Trees Make a Forest

One of The Guardian's Best Books of the Year

"Two Trees Make a Forest is a finely faceted meditation on memory, love, landscape--and finding a home in language. Its short, shining sections tilt yearningly toward one another; in form as well as content, this is a beautiful book about the distance between people and between places, and the means of their bridging." --Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

"Like a forest itself, Jessica J. Lee's book is mesmerizing on the scale of both the intimate and the vast. With gorgeous language that sings in your head like the songs of the birds in the trees, she deftly stitches together nature and travel writing with history and memoir. This book is a triumph. It left me longing to pack my boots and set off for the dew-covered mountains of Taiwan." --Juli Berwald, author of Spineless

"Two Trees Make a Forest is glorious and extraordinary--in its language, in its setting, in its story. Jessica J. Lee has a brilliant eye for nature, an ear for languages, and a sensitivity to the poetry of the human heart. In these pages, she performs a subtle miracle: she retrieves lost strands of family, landscape, and history and weaves them together to create a surprising and soulful whole." --Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, finalist for the National Book Award

"I want to go to Taiwan to experience the woodlands, the wetlands, the highlands, the lowlands, and the creatures in, above, and underneath, as Jessica J. Lee does with all her senses, including that sense too many of us ignore--the inner self. Then again, she has taken me there with this splendid book." --Jack E. Davis, author of The Gulf, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize

"A subtle, powerful exploration of the relationship between people and place, and a luminous evocation of an extraordinary landscape." --Melissa Harrison, author of All Among the Barley

"Two Trees Make a Forest takes a twisting path through mountain passes, over tree roots, by spoon-billed birds, and into a family's past. In this thoughtful memoir, Lee asks the reader to wonder, What makes a homeland? Is it language, family, landscape? I was left with a full heart and a longing to learn the name of each tree that lines my own past." --Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Starling Days

"A beautiful, fully realized tribute to a family, and a brave, diligent search for understanding in the mist." --Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun

"Jessica J. Lee shows in this book how a delicate interrogation of language and place can be critical to understanding where we are going." --Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim

"Both clear-eyed and tenderhearted, Two Trees Make a Forest is a profound and gorgeously written meditation on the natural and familial environments that shape us. Jessica J. Lee is a poetic talent keenly attentive to the mysterious and sublime." --Sharlene Teo, author of Ponti

"Two Trees Make a Forest is a stunning book. It is full of family, longing, ghosts, and landscapes, all of which, in Lee's deft and beautiful telling, invoke the complications of belonging to worlds both human and natural. Lee's writing is alive equally to the details of forests and to the daily lives of her parents and grandparents. The narrative emerges out of Taiwan's mists layer by layer, reminding us how place, experience, memory, and the bones of the earth remake one over time. A powerful meditation on the forces that shape our lives, from bedrock to the language we use to describe it." --Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast

Praise for Turning

"A sublime, philosophical slipping into the deep. Her book, Turning, is filled with a wonderful melancholy as she swims through lakes laden with dark histories." --Philip Hoare, New Statesman

"A brilliant debut . . . there is clarity and pleasure in the swim's afterglow." --Times Literary Supplement

"Turning is many things: a snapshot of Berlin seen through the prism of its lakes; the story of a broken and healing heart; a contemplation of identity; a coming-of-age story." --Katharine Norbury, Observer

"Bold and brave, she approaches her watery pilgrimage with a minimum amount of fuss. She doesn't, for instance, allow the ice on Brandenburg's lakes to get in her way, but takes a hammer to it . . . Lee writes like a siren, her silken prose blending with softly worn scholarship to enchanting effect. I challenge anyone to write more compellingly about Slavic suffixes or the formation of ice." --Literary Review

"A lovely, poetic, sensuous and melancholy book." --Irish Examiner

"The redemptive power of these wild landscapes, the changes in the water, and in Jessica, combine to create an inspiring story." --Daily Telegraph

"Jessica J. Lee's first book is lyrical and profound, told ... in stunning prose and with poetic flare; it's poignant and moving and passionate ... a lexeme masterpiece ... Wafting sweetly even through the weighty bits, her musings as steady and tender in sadness as learned peace. Too intimate to be comfortable, but told with a piercing vulnerability so affecting you wind up feeling close to Lee anyway, side-by-side and stroke-by-stroke, solidarity in life and lake and existential slog, 52 times over, together better for it." --The National Post

"Lee is an elegant writer; precise in her description, thoughtful in her observation, and most of all interested in the world that surrounds her ... Jessica J. Lee's is a trip to the lake well worth taking, inspiring even this reluctant swimmer to reach for his swimming shorts." --Elsewhere Journal

"[Lee's] beautifully written memoir combines personal memories with geographic and historical observations that should resonate even for staunch landlubbers." --Metro News

"I loved this beautiful book. It's an attentive meditation on the pleasures and lessons of swimming in lakes, particularly in winter. Jessica Lee wears her bravery lightly and shares her knowledge with generosity. I recommend for outdoor swimmers or those who would like to be." --Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun

"Jessica J. Lee is a writer of rare and exhilarating grace. In Turning, she sounds the depths of lakes and her own life, never flinching from darkness, surfacing to fresh understandings of her place in the welter of natural and human history. A beautiful, moody, bracing debut." --Kate Harris, award-winning author of Lands of Lost Borders

"A deeply moving meditation on solitude, yearning, loss and love. This lake of a book submerged and enveloped me. It is a truly beautiful offering." --Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life

"Lee's language is sharp as ice on a frozen lake. It's astounding, how, to explore her past and her own shifting identity, she uses the land as a metaphor, but tempers it with a view of yearning, the sight of someone once-removed, who can never really go back home again. Insightful, unconventional, moving, and inspiring, I think this book will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled across the darkness trying to find the light." -- Yasuko Thanh, author of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains