By Rebecca Rasmussen

June 20, 2014

Rebecca Rasmussen’s second novel describes the life of three generations of a family living in northern Minnesota, from 1938 to 1972.

Eveline and Emil move to Evergreen to start their married life together. They learn to adapt to the harsh environment and work hard in order to survive. When Emil travels to Germany to care for his dying father, Eveline remains behind with their baby boy, determined to carry on with the work they had started in establishing a home. Her neighbour and good friend, Lulu, continues to teach her survival skills and helps her through a traumatic time when Eveline is raped by a stranger and becomes pregnant.

Unable to accept her new daughter into her heart and face the constant reminder of her ordeal, Eveline leaves Naamah at an orphanage on the very day of her birth. When we meet Naamah 14 years later, we see the lonely life she is leading and sympathize with her desire to escape and find her mother. But a life of isolation, loneliness and physical and mental abuse has not prepared Naamah for the outside world and she is not sure what to do when she is set “free” one wintry night.

Eventually Huxley, Eveline’s son, learns of the existence of his sister and goes in search of her. Whether bringing her back to Evergreen is a good decision or not is debatable, as Naamah’s early life, combined with seven years of wild living in logging camps, have not provided a good base for settling down to domestic life, even a rustic one.

The first section of the book, describing the lives of Eveline and Emil, and their friends Lulu and Reddy, was very engaging, and for me, the most interesting. I loved the strong, well-rounded characters of Eveline and Lulu and enjoyed seeing Eveline develop and grow more independent and sure of herself. I was surprised by her decision not to confide in Emil about the rape and the baby and that she worried that their relationship would be compromised by that knowledge. What torture for her to keep such a huge secret from him for the rest of their life together.

Naamah’s narrative is also interesting but her story does not seem as fully fledged. We get to know her during her time in the orphanage but we see her as an adult only through the eyes of her brother. Once back at Evergreen, things seem to move very quickly, from her rescue, to her marriage, her sinking into her old ways, to her departure. She is a complex character and I would have welcomed some insight into her feelings about all the drastic changes she was going through.

Although themes of abandonment and loss permeate this novel, and characters often struggle with cruel circumstances, tragedy and abuse, this is not a sad or unhappy story. There is also joy and love, perseverance and resilience. As with The Bird Sisters, Rasmussen’s first novel, Evergreen is a tender, open-hearted story, where the author’s love for her characters is obvious. We see them with all their flaws, dealing with the complexities and surprises of life and surviving to the best of their abilities.

Evergreen ends on a positive note when we meet Racina, Naamah’s daughter, at the age of 11. Happy and well-adjusted, and surrounded by love from her extended family, her appearance augurs well for the future.

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