Under the Birch Tree
by Nancy Chadwick

She Writes Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-631-52357-1.
Reviewed by Shawn LaTorre
Posted on 04/09/2018

Nonfiction: Memoir

Writers sometimes claim to revel in the solitude of their youths, getting lost in nature, hobbies, writing, or books. Others, such as Nancy Chadwick, languish in the silences, longing to connect in some way with the nearness of others even as the confusion of how to do this prevents it time after time.

Chadwick, the author of Under of the Birch Tree, felt agonized growing up in a family of four who rarely spoke to one another. She became connected to things around her rather than people. As she matured, she began to understand the quiet role of her father as a dissatisfied husband who eventually left the family and remarried. His absence created a ripple: the house would be sold, forcing her mother to accept the challenges of becoming a single, independent woman—which she eventually did, at a time when both Nancy and her brother Tim were to strike out on their own.

Relationships confound and confuse a young professional Nancy. "Why doesn't anyone want to be with me? I'm a nice person, I'm smart, I have a job, and I'm self-sufficient." As she struggles to make sense of those around her, Chadwick clings to the steady visions of birch trees that seem to be found wherever she is and to her belief that "God will not let anything bad happen to me." Indeed, her faith protects her as she comes to terms with a blossoming self-worth, and the meaning of life as it unfolds for her.

Chadwick has succeeded in creating a touching memoir worth reading for anyone, especially anyone who struggles with job security and finding a sense of belonging. Her incredible faith and perseverance are testaments to the strength she garners throughout the many trials she encounters in her career. "Tears shed on the outside matched some on the inside, but they always dried up and I moved on."

A reader should expect a memoir to make full use of personal pronouns, and this one is no different. Arranged chronologically to cover a critical segment of her life, Under the Birches ends with a beautiful quote from Hermann Hesse that I wish could have been scattered throughout: "For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone..."

It is in standing alone for so long that Nancy Chadwich finally looks around and discovers her tribe.

Nancy Chadwick grew up in a north suburb of Chicago. She worked ten years with Leo Burnett advertising agency and then turned to banking. Ten years later, she turned to writing, finding inspiration in her years in Chicago and San Francisco. This memoir and her essay entitled "I Called You a Memoir" are two examples of her beautiful, heartfelt style of honest writing.

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