Introduction for Lilla Lit
May 19, 2019
by Virginia Bellis Brandabur
In 1982, Apricot Irving moved with her missionary parents to Haiti for the first time, thus beginning her family’s lifelong, complex relationship with this lovely, heartbreaking, irrepressible country and its people. “If only this place wasn’t so beautiful,” a percipient 14-year-old Apricot wrote. “You want to love it, to make it your own, but it won’t take you. It only looks at you strange, then laughs behind your back.”
As Apricot explores this relationship in her memoir, The Gospel of Trees, she also maps out the country’s history of trespass and violation: Haiti’s “soil was thick with blood: slaves, colonizers, Tainos, missionaries, all heaped together in their torment. The land was torn apart by their suffering. Hills, topsoils, forests gone, washed out to sea or burned until nothing remained but charcoal… a desecration so profound that five centuries would be insufficient to heal the scars.” Yet Apricot also tells of revolts, demonstrations, resilience, and the enduring belief of the Haitian people that their destiny, come what may, is their own.
Woven into this discordant history is young Apricot’s own struggle, to embrace or reject this place and its “skeletal children, its widows waiting to be saved,” who seem to suck away her all parents’ love. “I hated how gently he spoonfed her gulping hunger,” she confesses of her father’s attentions to a sick baby, “as if he would do anything to rescue her.” In the shadows of her father’s bottomless altruism, his inevitable disillusionment and destructive anger, and her parents’ rocky marriage, and in the fishbowl scrutiny of the missionary compound, Apricot shows the gleam of a girl fighting to own her choices.
Most significantly, Apricot’s memoir illustrates the dramatic and unpredictable consequences of seemingly inconsequential actions, be they accidental or intended, malicious or altruistic. As Apricot writes, “It isn’t always ours to know what impact we will have. What good – or what harm – we leave in our wake isn’t always immediately apparent.”
Please welcome 2019 Oregon Book Award winner of the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction, Apricot Irving.