The Tree of the Doves
Composed in the key of terror, The Tree of the Doves offers an engaging account of Christopher Merrill’s travels to distant parts of the world. From jungle to desert to sea, from cities to ruins, he explores how history is shaped by ceremonies, expeditions, and wars. He observes the performance of a banned ritual in Malaysia, retraces Saint-John Perse’s epic journey from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, and tours the Levant in the wake of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Encountering a wide range of people along the way—artists and politicians, soldiers and refugees—Merrill is as attentive to their individuality as he is attuned to the historical, social, and cultural situations in which they find themselves.
In three extended essays, he poses fundamental but nonetheless provocative questions—Where do we come from? Where are we going? What shall we do?—which lead him to conclude that the changes we are witnessing now presage the end of one order and the creation of another.
Lively and insightful, empathetic and illuminating, The Tree of the Doves is an important book, as contemporary as it is timeless.
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Praise and Prizes
“Lamentation, reportage, and memoir are unified by the author’s keen eye and voice—he’s a veteran, open-minded traveler looking everywhere for answers, posing every question with a willingness to dig deep into darker places. . . . Christopher Merrill is a ‘writer’s writer’: he spins sentences made of gold, makes essayistic moves like Montaigne.”
“The book is many things: a probing meditation of Islam and the West and the clash between modernity and tradition; a crucial look at the way a poet can become our guilty conscience, helping us to turn away from our dim, reductive hearts; and the terror that lies deep within the building of empires. . . . I admire the artful way Christopher Merrill braids his inward and outward journeys, and especially the ethics at the heart of his work.”
“Part travelogue, part meditation, part literary pilgrimage, The Tree of the Doves offers an original vision of nation, of art, and of the sacred. Through intimate accounts of harrowing travels, and in the tradition of Lewis Hyde’s explorations of gift exchange, Christopher Merrill takes us on an essential quest for sources—for art and for a full humanity.”
“Christopher Merrill is on an ardent lifelong quest and luckily he is taking us along. His three journeys in The Tree of the Doves are deep, wandering investigations where the old world meets the new, where the person becomes politic, and where peace many times has just left the room. His capacious mind is great company.”
“A deeply sympathetic and wide-ranging work of the most artful non-fiction, a splendidly hybrid book of journeys that we need right now.”
“Drawing on his literary gifts as an accomplished poet, Christopher Merrill provides a much-needed, truly illuminating perspective on these cultures, which is sadly missing from our mainstream media.”