Sadie, James and their family moved to Black Swamp Ohio in the early 19th century. In order to settle they must have fifty fruit trees so James spends a lot of time working on the orchard. He loves his apple trees, and has an admirable determination to get to the magic number fifty despite his surroundings. Black Swamp is an unforgiving place; the land is harsh and swamp fever takes the lives of many children. The place seems to have infected their relationship too; James is often aggressive towards his frequently drunk wife. They are full of resentment for each other and have clearly drifted apart over the years.
The book follows Robert, one of their children, as he moves on from Black Swamp and finds work in various places across America. Robert was very watchful as a child; quietly taking in the world around him and learning from James. He grows to be a gentle and kind character, who stands out in comparison to his parents. He writes letters home after leaving and this breaks up the book nicely to give a change of pace.
I loved the journey Robert took me on through the book. Watching him grow and learn whilst travelling across America was a real pleasure in contrast to the bitter conditions at Black Swamp. The details of growing apples and tending to trees is at first quite daunting, but soon becomes a comforting and stable backdrop to allow the characters to develop beautifully.
I received this book from Mumsnet Book Club.