In Japan, there is an old tradition of writing wishes or prayers on pieces of paper and tying them to “wish trees,” so that they might come true. When Ian’s wife Kate dies, she leaves behind a letter urging Ian and their 10-year-old daughter, Mattie, to retrace the route of a memorable trip through Asia that the two adults had taken some 15 years before. She leaves notes behind for both, to be opened when they arrive in each of the six Asian countries that she and Ian had planned to revisit someday: Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong and Vietnam. And Kate asks that they write letters to her and tie them to trees throughout their Eastern journey.
The author of three other unpredictably ranging novels, John Shors has made himself a reputation for recreating exotic landscapes that surround heartwarming stories with captivating details. The Wishing Trees is no exception, as he replaces what might be a standard tale of recovery from loss with an alluring travelogue, filled with colorful details of these chromatic countries. (The Taj Mahal, for instance, built “when architecture was spiritual in nature,” actually “seem[ed] to glow from within,” appearing “almost like a mirage in the desert . . . too perfect and pristine to rest on the same soil as the shops outside.”)
In each stop on their journey, Ian and Mattie find people, situations and settings that turn their thoughts inevitably toward others more than themselves. And Mattie, who has a talent for drawing, leaves letters for her mother with pictures and notes of longing and love on the tallest trees of every country, which eventually helps to turn her, and her father, away from the past and into a future filled with healing, as well as memories.