Evergreen by Rebecca RasmussenEvergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen

byRebecca Rasmussen

Paperback | June 23, 2015

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A BookPage Best Book of the Year

It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband, Emil, into the Minnesota wilderness. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a baby boy named Hux.  But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, a dangerous stranger arrives, fracturing their small family forever and leaving Hux to grow up wondering if the wrongs of the past can ever be mended.
 
Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, Rebecca Rasmussen has written a luminous and emotionally charged novel about how one defining moment can echo through generations.
Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the novel The Bird Sisters. Her stories have appeared in or won prizes from TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, Glimmer Train, The Mid-American Review, among other journals. She was born and raised in the Midwest. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter and teaches English part...
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Title:EvergreenFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:352 pages, 7.97 × 5.13 × 0.75 inShipping dimensions:7.97 × 5.13 × 0.75 inPublished:June 23, 2015Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345806719

ISBN - 13:9780345806710

Reviews

Read from the Book

1Eveline LeMay came after the water. She arrived on a cool morning in early September, asleep in a rowboat without paddles as if she knew the river currents would carry her past the tamarack and black-spruce forest, around Bone Island, a fen, and a bog, all the way to Evergreen and her new husband, Emil, who was waiting for her on the rocky shore.The flood had delayed Eveline’s trip north two months and forced her to travel by boat since the dirt roads had been washed away and no plans were made to restore them. Emil had sent word for her via the forest service to stay with her parents in Yellow Falls, a lumber town twenty miles south of Evergreen, until the water receded because he was living on the roof of their cabin, subsisting on whatever happened to float by. The newspapers blamed the flood on nature, but everyone knew the government had been building a dam to harness the power of the Snake and Owl Rivers in order to, in their words, bring light to all that was dark, but in everyone else’s: to build a paper mill and clear-cut the forests.“Mein Liebe,” Emil said, and Eveline opened her gray eyes.“I lost the paddles,” she said, sitting up in the rowboat, stiff from floating all night.On either side of the river, a forest of towering white pines shaded the shore. When the wind blew, long green needles fell onto the water like rain.Emil lifted her out of the boat as if she were a child and waved away a mosquito from her face. “My poor baby,” he said, kissing her. “But you’re here now. You’re home.”For the first time in two days, Eveline felt warm again despite her thin cotton dress, which she chose because Emil said the daisy pattern reminded him of the meadows in Germany where he played as a boy. She’d pinned up her long wheat-colored hair into a bun and let a few strands fall loosely around her face. Until she fell asleep, she’d pinched her cheeks every few hours to give them the rosy color Emil admired when they first met.“Lob der Jugend,” he’d said. In praise of youth.Emil was ten years her senior, gray at the temples, which made him look both dignified and a little rueful. His shoulders were broad and strong from working outside, which belied the stiffness in his chest he called winter in the heart.“They’re boots,” he said now, handing Eveline a pair of black rubber waders that rose to her thighs. “The country’s all mud.”“And the cabin?” Eveline said, struggling with them.“I stopped living on the roof three weeks ago,” Emil said. “They’re not like stockings. You won’t break them if you pull harder.”Once she secured the waders, Eveline took Emil’s hand, and the two of them walked up the rocky riverbank into the woods, which were alive with the hum of mosquitoes and groaning tree trunks. Emil set down pine boards for her to walk on in the places where the mud gurgled and spit sulfur. Where he didn’t set down boards, the mud came up to her ankles and in one place her calves.“At least the water came before the government did,” Emil said. He pointed to a stand of old-growth pine trees the flood had uprooted and tossed like matchsticks onto their sides. “It’ll make good firewood.”“Do we have a fireplace?” Eveline said.“A woodstove,” said Emil.“Electricity?”“A year or two yet. I’m working on running water.”Eveline had agreed to move to Evergreen because she wanted to be wherever Emil was, and Emil wanted to open a taxidermy shop on the edge of the wilderness like his father and his father’s father back in the Black Forest. Eveline’s mother had yielded similarly when she was nineteen and agreed to marry Eveline’s father and live above the Laundromat despite her allergy to heavy detergents. Every afternoon for as long as Eveline could remember, her mother would sit in a spearmint-oil bath to clear her sinuses, but she’d always be ready to greet her father with a kiss when he came home from the lumberyard, which made Eveline confident about her decision to marry Emil and move to Evergreen.Before Emil proposed to her, Eveline worked at Harvey Small’s, the only restaurant in Yellow Falls, serving plates of hamburgers to lumberjacks to relieve some of her family’s financial burdens. After her shifts, she’d go across the street to Lenora’s Fine Gowns, the place she’d met Emil, to brush against China silk and French chiffon, party dresses too fine for Northwoods parties. The dress shop was tucked between a live-bait stall and the Hunting Emporium, where camouflage jackets and buck knives hung from strands of twine in the front window. Eveline would circle the shop, reliving the moment when Emil had walked by, saw her twirling before a mirror, and was drawn to her side. After that, she’d go home to wash the scent of bacon fat out of her hair and freshen her skin with lemon juice.Coming into the country meant Eveline no longer had to work in the restaurant, where children poured milk shakes onto the seats and stray dogs circled out back for bits of gristle, but it also meant she and Emil would have to eke out sustenance from the hard northern landscape and whatever supplies Emil had salvaged from the flood. Eveline was nervous about her instinct for survival, but she trusted Emil’s completely. Emil had survived war as a boy and yet wasn’t hardened. Eveline thought of his butterfly collection—the delicate purple emperor he gave her the day they met—and squeezed his hand. Around them great pines lay like injured soldiers, sap streaming from their bark like blood.“I packed too many dresses,” Eveline said, surprised at how the modest silver band on her ring finger had made her lose sight of the place she was packing for. She’d tucked a pair of dancing shoes into her suitcase at the last minute.“You won’t always have to wear waders,” Emil said.There’s something else, Eveline thought, but couldn’t say in the middle of all this death.Before Emil decided to move them north, they shared her childhood bedroom in the apartment above the Laundromat and had only twice been daring enough to move together as man and wife, but it had been enough for life to begin inside of her.Her mother didn’t speak of her condition, but each morning she brought Eveline a cup of herbal tea with a spoonful of honey. She let out the seams of Eveline’s clothes and found an oversize winter coat for her at the secondhand shop.“Mom?” Eveline had said the morning before she left for Evergreen, when her mother passed by the threshold of her bedroom door. But the question Eveline wanted to ask her mother she couldn’t find the tongue for, because even though her mother seemed cheerful enough and complained little, over the years her face had become weighed down by something Eveline recognized but didn’t yet understand.Are you happy? Eveline had thought.Emil let go of Eveline’s hand when they got to a clearing in the forest and the mud gave way to bright green moss, then switchgrass that rose to her thighs.“It’s not much farther,” he said, tossing aside a dead weasel so Eveline wouldn’t have to step over it. “Everything’s been displaced.”Eveline wondered if Emil meant perished. Sometimes he used words that meant something different than they did to Eveline. When he asked her to marry him, he’d said “in case we’re separated,” which Eveline took to mean so we won’t ever be separate.The two walked through the thigh-high grass, over fallen branches that snapped beneath their feet and spongy earth that gave beneath them, Emil with a hand in his trouser pocket and the other wrapped around the handle of Eveline’s tweed suitcase.Overhead the clouds lumped together until Eveline couldn’t discern their shapes individually anymore. The air smelled of wet earth. Oxeye daisies and milkweed thistle, which grew in the back lot outside her bedroom window in Yellow Falls, gradually took the place of the switchgrass and made Eveline feel more sure of herself. What a good spot for a garden in the spring, she thought. My first real garden. In place of the milk thistle, which scratched at her waders like fingernails, she imagined everything from pumpkins to malva flowers. Maybe even a row of walnut saplings, which would grow up with their child. When Eveline was a baby, her mother planted a forsythia shrub behind the Laundromat so Eveline would be the first one in town to glimpse spring in its bright yellow petals.Eveline looked up at the clouds. “Do you think it’s going to rain today?”“Only if you wish it to, my wife,” Emil said. “I’ve been practicing saying that.”“The wife part or the lying part?”Emil smiled. “Both.”“Emil?” Eveline said, but before she could finish her thought the cabin rose out of the tangle of milk thistle in front of them like the prow of a ship on a wave.For a brief stark moment, Eveline saw her future in the black water stains that licked the brown logs, in the boarded-up window Emil had yet to fix because he’d have to float a pane of glass twenty miles up the river. She saw it in the mud bubbling out from beneath the porch steps and the yellow liquid oozing like pus from the chinking between the logs.And yet on the porch were two rocking chairs Emil had built and an evergreen wreath decorated with winterberries. A white-throated sparrow, what her father called a fortune bird, sat on the perch of a bright red birdhouse that hung from the eaves.Emil set down her suitcase. “What is it?”Eveline placed a hand on her stomach, a future that nudged her through the sunny material of her dress. “I’m pregnant.”

Bookclub Guide

A BookPage Best Book of the Year It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband, Emil, into the Minnesota wilderness. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a baby boy named Hux.  But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, a dangerous stranger arrives, fracturing their small family forever and leaving Hux to grow up wondering if the wrongs of the past can ever be mended.  Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, Rebecca Rasmussen has written a luminous and emotionally charged novel about how one defining moment can echo through generations.1. The book’s epigraph is a quote from José Ortega y Gasset: “Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are.” How does this prove true for Eveline, Hux, and Naamah?2. Eveline’s arrival in Evergreen reads almost like a fable: “Eveline LeMay came after the water. She arrived on a cool morning in early September, asleep in a rowboat without paddles as if she knew the river currents would carry her past the tamarack and black-spruce forest, around Bone Island, a fen, and a bog, all the way to Evergreen and her new husband, Emil, who was waiting for her on the rocky shore”. How does Rasmussen use language to create a real world where less-than-realistic things happen?3. When Emil tells Eveline, “What you do isn’t who you are”, what does he mean? How does this develop into a theme of the novel?4. Years apart, Eveline and Lulu become pregnant after being raped. Each makes a difficult decision. What do their choices tell us?5. Emil, Eveline, and Hux all practice taxidermy for different reasons. How does the author develop this as a metaphor? What does Tuna, the bird, represent?6. The cabin’s previous resident left behind a letter, which ends with a piece of advice: “When the time comes to let go, let go”. How does Eveline use this advice? Who else lets go over the course of the novel, and what do they release?7. Part Two, set at the Hopewell Orphanage, is quite bleak. How does the author use language and imagery to make the horrors endured by Naamah tolerable to readers?8. The girls’ names are explained—nearly every girl’s first name is Mary, “ . . . as if Sister Cordelia didn’t want them to be told apart.” Naamah and Ethelina, though, have highly unusual names. How did Sister Cordelia identify these two infants as being different? Did their names somehow seal their fates?9. Why does Cordelia choose Naamah to lead the girls in song?10. Abandonment is a theme throughout the novel, but becomes especially important in this section. How does Cordelia’s abandonment by her own mother connect to what happens at the orphanage?11. Why does the Bible passage, “There is no fear in love”, prompt Naamah to leave? Does Cordelia love Naamah, as she insists later to Hux?12. When Hux learns that Emil knew about Naamah, he blames him for doing nothing. How might things have played out if he had acted?13. Why does meeting Gunther prompt Naamah to move inside Hux’s cabin?14. When Naamah chooses to live with Gunther, Hux thinks, “Gunther had always been able to do everything—catch a bucket of fish, chop down a tree, milk a goat—twice as fast as Hux. He’d made a life out of tracking wild things, taming them with the barrel of his shotgun, and mounting them on his walls. Hux had made a life out of preserving what was dead. Of course Naamah would go to someone like him". Why is she really drawn to Gunther?15. Why does Naamah go to the Mosquito Net for the first time?16. After giving birth, just before naming Racina, Naamah breaks the silver cross necklace. Why?17. What makes Ethelina so important to Naamah? How does her death spur Naamah into making such a calamitous decision?18. Is Gunther a good parent? Did you expect him to be?19. How do Lulu’s coat, Ethelina’s hat, and Racina’s purple boots act as talismans to the wearers?20. Encroaching modernity has negative connotations throughout the novel—the flood caused by the dam, Cullen’s connection to attempts to bring light to the forest, the misery of the logging camps. What is the meaning of this?

Editorial Reviews

"A large-hearted story of resilience, hope and forgiveness deep in the wilds of Minnesota." —Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train  “Evergreen cements Rasmussen’s reputation as one of our most talented new writers.” —BookPage  "A deeply moving novel of mothers and daughters—and mothers and sons—and the ties that bind.” —Chris Bohjalian, author of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands “A book worthy of a blanket, hot cocoa, and a lit fireplace.” —San Francisco Book Review  "Evergreen is a gem of a novel. The story unfolds with the potency and certainty of fable and explores, with exquisite grace, the redemptive power of love." —Tara Conklin, author of The House Girl“Evergreen reads like a brilliant collaboration between a novelist and a naturalist. Rebecca Rasmussen’s stunning eye for detail is perfectly matched by her understanding of how lives turn in an instant, decisions shape distant generations, and sometimes, if we’re fortunate, loyalties survive to save us against all odds.” —Robin Black, author of Life Drawing “Hope and the redeeming power of love are embedded in the fiber of this story: if it makes you weep, you weep from sorrow and joy at once.” —Santa Fe New Mexican “In an icy rural setting in northern Minnesota, several women struggle with the demands of motherhood. . . . Rasmussen crafts a world where [abandonment] is too complicated for quick dismissal or conclusion”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune “Rasmussen, with a deft touch, incites wave after wave of tension in a story that never allows the reader to forget just how much strength lies in the female spirit . . . Reminiscent of Bonnie Jo Campbell and Marilynne Robinson. . . . A novel that proves that Rasmussen’s literary star continues to rise in a way that is anything but quiet.” —Wisconsin State Journal Review“Evergreen is superbly written with engaging characters, realistic dialogue, and an honest look at what love and belonging means to a family.” —Portland Book Review “Rasmussen has been steadily crafting a unique brand of Midwestern literature . . . writ[ing] with wisdom and compassion about the people and places that shape us, for better or worse.” —Booklist “Evergreen is a beautifully written novel about love, family, perseverance, and grace. Similar to [Rasmussen’s] debut novel, The Bird Sisters, Evergreen hits hard with delicacy and strength.”—The Bay View Compass (Milwaukee, WI) “In powerful, spare prose, Rasmussen shows the long-term effects of a heartbroken mother’s decision. . . . Readers will find many reasons to root for good to win out, just as they will find much to admire in the well-drawn characters who want to belong, to live, and love, in the forest of Evergreen” —Historical Novel Society