Samuel Beckett is a young writer living in Paris--intoxicated by new friendships with James Joyce and the other writers and artists making the vibrant city their creative home--when war breaks out in 1939. He determines to stay and is swiftly drawn into the maelstrom, joining the Resistance. With him we experience the terrifying excitement yet stubborn vibrancy and camaraderie as the Parisians flee the Nazis and the Resistance goes underground; his friendships with the astonishing group of men and women who find themselves caught up in the Occupation; his quiet, committed love for Suzanne, the Frenchwoman who will become his lifelong companion; and his dangerous work encoding critical messages in translations and narrow escapes from the Gestapo. Here is a remarkable story of survival and determination, and a portrait of a uniquely brilliant mind.
Shortlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
“[W]hat I found so restorative in Baker’s novel, so deeply necessary, was its beauty. . . . Baker writes beautifully, but she also cares about beauty, sees the intrinsic value in it.” —The Millions
“[A] stunning historical novel. . . . Not once during Baker’s writing does she sweeten or sour her recount of her subject’s war years; rather she presents Beckett as defiant, disagreeable, passionate and weak, all those traits that make him authentic and accessible. The result: A Country Road, A Tree is a revelation, a joy.” —Stuff (New Zealand)
“Jo’s novels always blow me away. . . . I know this will be one to savour, in front of a roaring fire with a box of chocolates beside me.” —Lesley Allen, author of The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir
“[An] intimate portrait of Samuel Beckett. . . . Baker details how wartime experiences provide the key to Beckett’s transformation from Joyce disciple to distinctive literary voice. In this worthy successor to Longbourn, she skillfully captures Beckett’s world, the rhythms of his bare-bones prose, and the edginess of his point of view.” —Publishers Weekly
“Baker is at her best here, conjuring vivid images with seemingly effortless ease. . . . The opening lines of the novel . . . are an open door into another world; it is a rare author who can achieve such transporting alchemy. Baker is one of them, and Beckett is a fascinating subject, in some ways a typical male author of his time (hard drinking, emotionally unavailable, peculiar) and in many others a vast-hearted, mammoth-souled artist worthy of such painstaking attention.” —Toronto Star
“[A] new novel by Jo Baker sheds light on a significant point in the life of Samuel Beckett. . . . [It] presents a fascinating fictional account of the playwright and novelist’s war years working for the Resistance in occupied France. . . . [Baker] takes the facts of Beckett’s wartime experiences, shaping them into an immensely engaging story of the uncertainty, upheaval, intensity and moral questions that characterise a time of conflict. . . . The ‘stripped back’ nature of [James] Joyce’s later writing is subtly echoed by Baker in her own beautifully crafted, pared down prose.” —The Yorkshire Post
“[A] most enjoyable read. Baker’s Beckett is likeable, accessible even, and A Country Road, A Tree is a stunning tribute to the life-changing experiences that shaped a literary giant.” —Irish Independent
“It is a daring project, to enter the mind of a man known for his withdrawal and silences, but Baker succeeds triumphantly in prose that is both intimate and austere. . . . [T]his is an extraordinary story that shines a light both on individuals caught up in the sweep of history and the way life is transmuted into art. Baker is a strange, determined writer, and I am fascinated to see what she does next.” —The Guardian
“Baker’s impressionistic character portrait works hard at evoking a questing, solitary intelligence during a period of physical and mental anguish and wholesale destruction. . . . [A] virtuoso imagining of war’s terrors and privations.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Baker builds a convincing case for how Beckett’s experiences in a world shattered by war shaped the dark, spare, tragicomic voice he developed to express the despair, absurdity, and surprising fortitude that characterize human existence.” —Literary Hub
“Baker writes well. She is insightful, demanding of her sentences. The tension, the fear, the sheer grind of life under occupation and the toll that it takes are here. The story is beautifully paced, the research lightly worn. The novel is written in the present tense . . . which gives the prose a handheld feel, authentic, narrow in focus. . . . There is a lot going on under the surface with A Country Road, a Tree. There is the craft of a good novelist at work.” —Eoin McNamee, author of the Blue trilogy, The Irish Times
“[M]oving, beautifully written and riveting historical novel.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Baker is not a writer to shy away from literary heavyweights. . . . [S]he confronts Beckett head-on. . . . A Country Road, A Tree gives us one version of Beckett—one account of how a writer’s experience of war might have laid down the template for his future work. It’s an enticing version, astute and elegant.” —The Australian
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