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Historical amnesia

 

I’ve watched the world lurch from bad to worse to bad and back again—more times than I can count. Letting my book’s characters speak for me, I voice my dismay that human beings seem incapable of learning from past atrocities. I hope that The Last Shade Tree will make a dent in people's seemingly willful amnesia. Propelled through condensed time, principal character Aleta witnesses more than a century of genocidal history that is unfortunately not fantasy but inspired by real events. In despair, she says, “Those horrible places I went to in the past ... I thought none of it could ever happen again. I thought people had learned…. I know thousands will die because some people think they’re right and everyone else is wrong. And not just this time. It’s going to happen over and over.”

The historical portions are set from 1838 to 1976. The atrocities covered in the novel during the span of those years are treated as vignettes absorbed into the fabric of the story. Although there is far more to the tale than these cruel scenes, it doesn’t hurt to remember what they were about and when they happened.

The devastating forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians from the American South to Oklahoma in seventeen detachments—the Cherokee Trail of Tears—occurred during the summer of 1838 through 1839. Residential schools designed to “Kill the Indian—Save the Man” were established after the Civil War and lasted almost to the end of the 20th Century.

The Warsaw Ghetto, created in 1940 during the German WW II occupation of Poland, ended abruptly in May, 1943. The death toll of the Jewish population herded within and imprisoned behind its walls exceeded 100,000.

The forced internment of Japanese Americans in camps throughout the U.S. and Hawaii began a few months after Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and did not end until early 1945.

The Drancy internment camp for Jews—a halfway point on the way to the extermination camps—operated in a suburb near Paris from 1942 to 1944 during the German occupation of France. It is now a Shoah memorial museum.

A brief episode in the novel is based on the 1944 liquidation of the “gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz when some Romani prisoners were shipped off to provide slave labor in German factories.

The repressive Communist era in Czechoslovakia lasted from 1948 to 1989.