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Most Circulated Titles in Canada in 2021 – Canadian Non-Fiction

Two Trees Make a Forest
In Search of My Family's Past Among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts
By (author): Jessica J. Lee
Jessica J. Lee


Hamish Hamilton



Product Form:


Form detail:

Paperback , Trade


General Trade
Jul 28, 2020
$24.95 CAD


8.2in x 5.7 x 0.8 in | 0.7 lb

Page Count:

304 pages
Penguin Canada
Hamish Hamilton
Banff Mountain Book Prize 2021, Winner Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature 2020, Short-listed Canada Reads 2021, Short-listed Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize 2020, Winner
Combining an immersive exploration of nature with captivatingly beautiful prose, Jessica J. Lee embarks on a journey to discover her family’s forgotten history and to connect with the island they once called home.

Taiwan is an island of extremes: towering mountains, lush forests, and barren escarpment. Between shifting tectonic plates and a history rife with tension, the geographical and political landscape is forever evolving. After unearthing a hidden memoir of her grandfather’s life, Jessica J. Lee seeks to piece together the fragments of her family’s history as they moved from China to Taiwan, and then on to Canada. But as she navigates the tumultuous terrain of Taiwan, Lee finds herself having to traverse fissures in language, memory, and history, as she searches for the pieces of her family left behind.

Interlacing a personal narrative with Taiwan’s history and terrain, Two Trees Make a Forest is an intimate examination of the human relationship with geography and nature, and offers an exploration of one woman’s search for history and belonging amidst an ever-shifting landscape.

Publication History: Original Trade Paperback

RISING STAR: Lee has just won the prestigious RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. She was chosen by Kate Harris, who will mentor her on her next book. Harris says Lee is an “uber-talented Canadian author, whose first book, Turning, I deeply admired for its gorgeous mix of memoir and nature/travel writing…She’s definitely a nonfiction voice I want to hear more from.” (Previous recipients of the award include Alicia Elliott and Iain Reid.)

ONE OF CANADA’S BEST NATURE WRITERS: Lee received rave reviews for her first book Turning (see below) and it was also longlisted for the 2018 Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors. We’ve seen the success of books that combine a deep love of nature plus a personal journey, such as Eating Dirt and Lands of Lost Borders. Lee has a PhD in environmental history and aesthetics, and her potential is boundless.

TIMELY IMMIGRANT STORY: Lee’s mother is Asian (her father is British), and this book very much explores her identity and her grandparents—their immigration to Canada and also their harrowing journey from China to Taiwan.

BACKLIST OPPORTUNITY: We will be reissuing Turning in a fresh paperback format in time for the release of Two Trees Make a Forest.

INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATION: We are partnered with Catapult in the US and Virago in the UK.

OTPB: We’re publishing in a beautiful and affordable edition with flaps.

JESSICA J. LEE has been awarded the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. Her first book, Turning, which chronicles her journey swimming 52 lakes in a single year, was longlisted for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors. She has a doctorate in environmental history and aesthetics. Originally from London, Ontario, the author now lives in Berlin.

Author Residence: Berlin

Author Hometown: London, Ontario

Marketing: Paid social advertising

Travel / immigrant influencer mailing

Google display

US plans:

Advance mailing to trade publications including Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and Library Journal  

Goodreads giveaway around publication

Pitch for radio interviews  

Review mailing to outlets such as The New York Times

Publicity: Select review coverage in outlets like the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star

Pitch for festivals

WINNER of the 2021 Banff Mountain Book Prize in Adventure Travel
WINNER of the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature
Shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021
On CBC’s list of “the best Canadian nonfiction of 2020”

One of:
The Globe and Mail’s “100 favourite books of 2020”
The Guardian's Best Books of the Year
CBC’s “24 Canadian books to read during Women's History Month”
Toronto Star's “Book gift ideas for lovers of the good life”

Praise for Two Trees Make a Forest:

“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

“Jessica J. Lee is a writer of rare and exhilarating grace.”
—Kate Harris, award-winning author of Lands of Lost Borders

“Exploring physical and cultural landscapes, this book made us question the meaning of ‘adventure’. Travelling through her ancestry and her family’s roots in Taiwan, Jessica J. Lee seeks and finds her own place amongst the mountains, trees and people of their home. Two Trees Make a Forest is full of evocative descriptions of the land along with a gentle, determined search to find belonging. Jessica unravels a complex, ultimately grounding family history during a brave and enlightening journey.”
—2021 Banff Mountain Book Prize Jury

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

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 and Harmless Like You

“Both clear-eyed and tender hearted, 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

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

“[In] Two Trees Make a Forest . . . Jessica J. Lee shares her knowledge of linguistics and environmental history as she hikes the fault lines of her own family’s story in sentences that make you gasp in admiration. . . . She sets a speedy narrative pace, like a trained guide with nightfall looming, but she knows the value of slowing her stride so readers can absorb the luscious vistas she is describing and the familial tragedy she is mourning. This book will haunt you.”
—2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize jury

“[U]ncommonly beautiful. . . . Lee’s style reads effortlessly, and readers enter the rhythm of her prose style and allow that rhythm to carry them along chapter after chapter as one facet or another is examined and revealed.”
Quill & Quire

“[An] elegiac book, which smoothly incorporates historical and travel threads . . . A beautiful and personal view of an island?and an author?shaped by environment and history.”
Kirkus Reviews

“. . . a fascinating and gentle read. . . . [Two Trees Make a Forest] is both an introduction to Taiwan, its people and its topography, and a highly personal, and honest, account of one family. It is beautifully written, full of metaphor and short passages of illuminating description.”
—Geographical (UK)

“Jessica J. Lee asks the reader to consider slippery definitions of family in her complicated but thoughtful memoir, Two Trees Make a Forest. . . . [An] elegance of language is ever present in the work; poetic and emotive, unfurling to reveal passages about her family, her pain, and her exploration of Taiwan’s myriad habitats, which arise from its delicate status as an island positioned between two tectonic plates.”
The Los Angeles Review of Books

“Lee uncovers surprising parallels between nature and human stories that shaped her family and their beloved island . . . she also turns a critical eye onto colonialist explorers who . . . relied on and often erased the labour and knowledge of local communities.”
—CBC Books

“[A] genre-breaking memoir. . .”
The Straight

“A poignant and beautifully written account of family, time, and place.”
—Library Journal

“[A] luminescent exploration of family and landscape in Taiwan . . . a powerful, beautifully written account of the connections between people and the places they call home.”
—The Times Literary Supplement

“[A] sweeping memoir. . . . A trained environmental historian, Lee adopts a unique approach to making sense of her new landscape.”
—Outside Magazine

"Jessica J. Lee's stirringly beautiful book, which mingles elements of memoir, travel writing, and history lesson, is intensely personal and profoundly generous, offering readers a glimpse into the rich legacies of both Lee's family and their homeland, Taiwan . . . A stunning journey through a country that is home to exhilarating natural wonders, and a scarring colonial past. Lee makes breathtakingly clear the connection between nature and humanity, and offers a singular portrait of the complexities inherent to our ideas of identity, family, and love."

"Part travel guide, part memoir, part history, the new book by environmental historian Jessica J. Lee takes us on a journey through her ancestral home of Taiwan as she examines the landscape, the wildlife, the legacy of colonialism and her own roots. The book beautifully captures the deep connections between the natural world and family history."
Ms. Magazine

"When Jessica J. Lee discovers letters written by her immigrant grandfather, she decides to head to her ancestral home of Taiwan to connect with his experiences . . . Through this time, she learns more about her family's past, including how colonialism shaped their fate."
?Cosmopolitan, A Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

"Love is attention, as the saying goes, and in this, Lee’s memoir truly shines. A remarkable exercise in careful attention, be it to the nuances of language, the turns of colonial history, or a grandfather’s difficult-to-read handwriting, Two Trees Makes A Forest is a moving treatise on how to look closely and see truthfully, even as the fog rolls in."

"After unearthing her grandfather’s hidden memoir, Lee becomes determined to piece together her family’s history as they moved from China to Taiwan to Canada. Her search brings her home to Taiwan where she explores the language, history, and memories of her family’s homeland. Her end product is a beautifully written book that is equal parts personal narrative, history of Taiwan, and meditations on nature."
?Book Riot, One of the Best New Memoirs Written by Asian Authors

[Lee] offers a poetic tour and anti-colonial reclamation of [Taiwan] through her descriptions of its flora, fauna, natural disasters, and political history."
?Electric Literature

"[In Two Trees Make a Forest,] Lee finds her own ways of imprinting her rediscovered homeland on her spirit . . . As Taiwan reveals itself, Lee comes to a kind of peace. Gong’s past and her present, so evocatively examined, suggest the forest she needed to find."

"As an environmental history scholar and nature writer, Lee brings a fascinating perspective to Taiwan based on an immersive connection to the land. Lee eloquently describes Taiwan’s landscapes and natural history from Qing times, when modern scientific methods were first developed, and impresses upon readers the magnificence of its mountains that climb to almost 4,000 meters from sea level."
?Asian Review of Books

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