2019 Oregon Book Award Winner

Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction

“This memoir is finally the story of learning to see, read, and love not just each other, but a vital Haiti that has risen up against its history of colonization again and again and again. Troubling, alive, defiant, and tender, Apricot Irving has given us an urgent book, a must-read for grave times.”

Judges: Amy Fusselman, Paul Lisicky, Terese Marie Mailhot

The Gospel of Trees

Irving moves seamlessly between the wide-eyed perspective of the child and the critical gaze of the adult, creating a tale as beautiful as it is discomfiting. The question that haunts her also haunts her book: “Should we have kept trying, even if we were doomed to fail?”

— The New Yorker

Award-winning writer Apricot Irving grew up as a missionary’s daughter in Haiti during a time of upheaval. Her father’s unswerving commitment to replant the deforested hillsides, despite growing political unrest, threatened to splinter his family. Drawing from her parents’ journals, as well as her own, Irving retraces the story of her family, the missionaries in the north of Haiti, and the shattered history of colonization. Beautiful, poignant, and explosive, The Gospel of Trees grapples with the complicated legacy of those who wish to improve the world, and bears witness to the defiant beauty of an undefeated country.

"Neither sugar-coated, nor cynical, Apricot Irving has mastered the most difficult aspect of this kind of memoir: the just-right tone of compassion and hard-earned hope. A cautionary tale for all those setting out to do good. May this gospel be read as the good news it is–a moral compass and a must read for all of us who struggle with how to create a better world.”

- Julia Alvarez, author of numerous novels, including, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and Saving the World, as well as the memoir, A Wedding in Haiti


"If a memoir’s worth lies in the truths it’s willing to tell, then The Gospel of Trees is the most worthwhile of memoirs, an unflinching and gorgeously written account of a young girl’s coming of age in a difficult family, in one of the world’s most difficult places. How do we survive our own lives? ‘Such endeavors only look easy from a distance,’ writes Apricot Irving, apropos of planting trees, though of course it’s about so much more than those trees. Her story hits hard, and sticks, as only the very best stories do.”

- Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award


“With great tenderness and a careful eye, Apricot Anderson Irving takes the reader deep into Haiti, investigating the inner lives of those who try to help the desperately poor and helpless. She explores the difficult and often unspoken side of charity, and all the ramifications of what she beautifully calls ‘the obligation to be generous.'”

- Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God

“A beautiful exploration of hope and hubris. Irving shows us the many entanglements among our relationships with the land, other cultures, and the mysteries of our own families.”

- David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer finalist, The Forest Unseen


The Gospel of Trees is rich with passionate insights; also, it’s a rare thing to find an insider account of missionary life not blunted by conventional piety.  Very particularly sensitive to Haiti, this book is an object lesson for anyone wanting to do good in the world: forget about moving that mountain of sand with your tweezers; you will (as the old Vodou song has it) be carrying water with a spoon. This book would remind me of The Poisonwood Bible, except it rings more true."

- Madison Smartt Bell, award-winning author of All Souls Rising, finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award

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