A Tangled Tree explores the story of three generations, as written by a daughter eager to understand her family’s history, while searching to accept her father’s eccentricity, beauty, rage and nomadic existence.
From the Holocaust to the present day, A Tangled Tree follows the echo of tragedy as it ripples across the surface of a family. It is the story of a daughter who dives in search of silent, swallowed stones, those ingested generations ago, passed down from mother, to father, to child.
It is a story that weaves through time and space, charting the epic, beautiful and complex journey of a family’s profound and tangled tree of life.
About the Author
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt grew up on the island of Kauai where she gorged on mangos, chased after imaginary unicorns and freckled beneath a hot tropical sun. As a young woman, she traveled to Massachusetts to attend the Cambridge School of Weston for high school, and landed in New York to study at Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a BA in creative writing. Her junior year abroad took her to England, where she wandered the stone buildings of Oxford University, lived in libraries, trekked through Eastern Europe in the heart of winter, and devoted herself to creative writing.
Since then, the rolling purple mountains of Western North Carolina have become Aiyanna’s home, and she lives and works in Asheville, a city in a high valley of the Appalachian Mountains. She can be found pecking at her keyboard in West Asheville, gardening and tending to her honeybees in Woodfin, where her partner and his wild coyote child live and work on a growing homestead. She is a writer, a student of permaculture design and gardening; she is a maker of herbal elixirs and meads, a tarot card reader, a constant and sensitive seeker, and grateful to be on this beautiful and mysterious journey called life.
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt began her career as a reporter with Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s independent and locally-owned newspaper, writing about community activism, sustainability, local food systems, art, theater, dance and expressive art. Check out her articles published in print, 2007-2016 here.
Aiyanna is currently a contributing writer with Mother Earth News, where she writes about homesteading, permaculture and DIY projects for home and small-scale farmers. From tapping maple trees to cold-hardy cover crops, her writing strives to inspire people to grow their own food, make their own medicine, to get outside and get dirty! Read More.
In addition to writing, Aiyanna works as the Development Coordinator for Our VOICE, Asheville & Buncombe County’s rape crisis and prevention center, a nonprofit committed to the vital work of ending sexual violence while helping people heal and reclaim their power.
Aiyanna is also a student of permaculture and organic gardening with Wild Abundance, a primitive skills and natural building school just outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
A Tangled Tree
Beautifully clear-eyed prose…
“In beautifully clear-eyed prose, Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt plumbs the complexities of her bond with a brilliant, unsettled father. Their story leaps across continents and generations to map a branching history of pain, betrayal, and devotion. Moshe Blatt is a hypnotic character—wolf and wise man, adorable and infuriating—but his daughter’s quest to understand her heritage is just as mesmerizing.”
Author of Red Clocks, The Listeners, and Farewell Navigator
“A Tangled Tree is a powerful and emotional journey exploring Sezak–Blatt‘s relationship with her eccentric, adventurous, and often–absent father. Unflinchingly candid and beautifully written, A Tangled Tree offers no easy answers. Instead, it tests the frayed, raveled, and enduring bonds between daughter and dad. It‘s athought–provoking, touching quest to heal and rebuild from the rubble.”
Author of Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America
Lit with warmth…
“A moving portrait of a remarkable man and a remarkable father-daughter relationship. Every page is lit with warmth, compassion, and moral grace.”
Author of Starting Out in the Evening and Florence Gordon
A Tangled Tree
Nominated for the 2017 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt’s A Tangled Tree is an aching, beatific trip through a family’s cellular memory, showing how intricately our futures are tied to the events of our ancestral pasts.
When the opportunity to write her enigmatic father’s life story arose, Aiyanna jumped to the task. The fourth of Michael’s six children, Ayianna recalls being both awed and embarrassed by her father. She relates feeling blessed by the gift of his radical and communal Shabbat practices, but also set apart by his choices, including his frequent transitions between families. She captures colorful memories of him—long-haired, nonconformist, naked, and stoned in the name of transcendence—on the Hawaii beaches of her youth.
But underlying the biography of this wild, rabbinic hippie is a troubled past. Michael was conceived while his parents fled Hitler’s grasp, and came into the world just beyond the Reich’s reach: “My father was born in … shape-shifting territory, in a time when maps were drawn and tossed and borders refused to stay still.” He grew up haunted by the radical improbability of his very existence; those insecurities bled over into his unconventional lifestyle choices, and ultimately over into his children’s sensibilities.
Aiyanna finds herself haunted by what ifs, and by the knowledge of what happened to her extended family, who could not flee:
I have dreamed of my own death in Auschwitz. I have breathed in the gas. I have fallen, naked, to a cold floor, gasping for breath, taking in the green, toxic steam. In my dream, I am not alone.
Such ties are emotively rendered, and make the work a good fit for those interested in the lasting psychological effects of genocides. The book transcends its familiar themes, too, by the sheer power of its prose. Aiyanna captures feelings, moments, and sensations with skill: a lapis stone burning like a memory in the belly of her grandmother; the itchy strangeness of an accidental dose of a hallucinogen; the cramped airlessness of the last train car out of Poland. Such moments are captivating and sensitively captured.
Family dramas are touched upon frequently, though Aiyanna remains a diplomatic storyteller—both naming her father’s missteps and allowing him room to forward his own defenses. She troubles through dominant issues thoughtfully, producing nuanced portraits of those who came before her—and, through them, a rounded picture of herself, set appropriately within the family tree.
Flaws are few and are generally cosmetic–an unnerving, unpolished cover; letters to a friend that are preserved in a hard-to-read script. The text remains a pleasure to read throughout: illuminating, deliberate, and lovely.
A Tangled Tree is a stunning family biography—as Michael says of his own memories, “it is so miraculous, so painful, so beautiful it hurts.”
Reviewed by MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER
Press for A Tangled Tree
On The Air
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt reads from A Tangled Tree on Asheville FM:
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt on Asheville Arts WPVM:
Handpicked books we relish, selected by Small Press Distribution.
Local author weaves family history into literary debut, a feature in the Mountain Xpress.
Your Asheville summer reading list, a feature story in the Sunday Citizen Times.
Featured Book, an article in The Laurel of Asheville.