Il grande albero by Susanna Tamaro

When I read through this year’s first “Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks” discussion thread, there was a member who posted that her goal would be 26 books this year, because she reads very slowly and English is a foreign language for her. That comment stayed with me for several days, nagging at me… 26 books! Certainly I could attempt at least one or two in my foreign language.

It’s been a while – about 20 years! – since I’ve read a book in Italian. Message boards and reading the La mucca moka and La nuvola Olga stories to my 3-year-old aren’t exactly the same kind of challenge. I came across a discussion thread that recommended Susanna Tamaro’s Il grande albero for intermediate readers. This novel was written for (native speakers) ages 10 and up. It was a great choice. I was able to read with fluidity, only needing the dictionary a few times each chapter.

Title: Il grande albero
Author: Susanna Tamaro
Publisher: Giunti Editore
Released: January 2009
Source: my personal library

Synopsis:

This is the story of a fir tree, its long life, and its encounters with famous people like the Emperor of Austria and Princess Sissi. After being cut, his journeys take him far away from the clearing where he was born, and eventually he becomes the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. His friendship with Crik the squirrel will help him finally get home. A modern fairy tale, a story of courage, love and friendship in which life trumps everything.

What a sweet, enchanting story! The language in Il grande albero is clear and poetic. When describing birds flying south for the winter, Tamaro writes, “The birds had left their nests to meet the adventure of life.” Later in the book, the fir tree is called a “grand, green cathedral.” There were many, many moments like this: descriptions of things so common and simple, but leaving me breathless by such beautiful phrasing.

The fir tree shares with us its unique perspective on the world. From its height and throughout its long life, we watch as technology evolves, war breaks out, and familiar events in history unfold. Once the tree is moved to St. Peter’s Square, Crik becomes the focus of the story. He is an endearing young squirrel with surprising determination and enormous empathy, a “humble creature ignited by love.” He believes anything is possible; he does not accept the notion that fate is binding. His grandfather had taught him “a squirrel can always do something” – so Crik does.

I really hope this is eventually translated into English. Il grande albero is the epitome of what British educator Charlotte Mason would call a living book. For those of you who happen to read Italian, I highly recommend this book! Non-native speakers like me – if you’re at least at an intermediate level, you’ll be able to understand it well with minimal use of the dictionary.

I found this video of Susanna Tamaro discussing Il grande albero, with English subtitles: