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  • Written by Naseem Rakha
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  • Written by Naseem Rakha
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A Novel

Written by Naseem RakhaAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Naseem Rakha


List Price: $9.99


On Sale: July 07, 2009
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-7679-3220-2
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
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Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he’s been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene fights her husband. She does not want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings about the move. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they are just settling into their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens. Fifteen-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer, a young mechanic with a history of assault, robbery, and drug-related offenses, is caught and sentenced to death.

Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.

Years later, Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long—Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret to hide. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.

Dramatic, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting, The Crying Tree is an unforgettable story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness.


The Crying Tree
Naseem Rakha

C H A P T E R 1
October 1, 2004

THE DEATH WARRANT ARRIVED THAT morning, packaged in a large white envelope marked confidential and addressed to Tab Mason, Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary. Mason had been warned the order might be coming. A couple of weeks earlier, the Crook County DA had let the word slip that after nineteen years on death row, condemned murderer Daniel Joseph Robbin had stopped his appeals.
Mason dropped the envelope on his desk, along with a file about as thick as his fist, then ran his hand over the top of his cleanly shaved skull. He’d been in corrections for twenty years–Illinois, Louisiana, Florida–and on execution detail a half- dozen occasions, but he’d never been in charge of the actual procedure. Those other times he’d simply walked the guy into the room, strapped him down, opened the blinds on the witness booth, then stood back and waited. He’d worked with one guy in Florida who’d done the job fifty times. “It becomes routine,” the officer told Mason, who was busy puking into a trash can after witnessing his fi rst execution.
Now Mason slid into his chair, flicked on his desk lamp, and opened Robbin’s file. There was the man’s picture. A front and side shot. He had been nineteen years old when he was booked, had long scraggly hair and eyes squinted to a hostile slit. Mason turned the page and began to read. On the afternoon of May 6, 1985, Daniel Joseph
Robbin beat, then shot fifteen-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley (aka “Shep”) while in the process of robbing the boy’s home at 111 Indian Ridge Lane. The victim was found still alive by his father, Deputy Sheriff Nathaniel Patrick Stanley, but died before medical
assistance could arrive. The remaining family members–wife and mother, Irene Lucinda Stanley, and twelve-year-old Barbara Lee (aka Bliss)–were not present during the incident. The Stanleys, who were originally from Illinois, had been living in Oregon for a year and a half when the incident occurred.
The superintendent leafed through more pages–court documents, letters, photos–then leaned back in his chair and looked out his window. A squat rectangular building sat on its own toward the north end of the prison’s twenty-five-acre grounds. The last time someone had been executed out there was seven- plus years ago. Mason had been working his way up through the ranks at the Florida State Prison out of Raiford, aspiring for a job like the one he had now–head of a large correctional institution, good salary, power. He blew out a long, disgusted breath. Why now? The Oregon penitentiary was way overcrowded, inmates doubled up in their cells, half of them out of their minds; fights were breaking out left and right, gangs getting tougher to handle; there were race issues, drugs–all while funding for counseling and rehab continued to get slashed. Why now, and why this?
Mason reread the warrant. The execution was scheduled for October 29, 12:01 A.M.
“Less than a goddamn month,” he said, shaking his head. Then, as if to rouse himself, he clapped his mismatched hands, one as dark as the rest of his black skin, one strangely, almost grotesquely white. There was no complaining in this job, he told himself. No moaning about what needed to be done. No stammering or stuttering or
doing anything that might show the slightest bit of resistance or hesitancy. No. Everything in his career had been leading him to this kind of challenge: his demeanor, his words, his actions would all set a tone. And he knew exactly what that tone had to be.

From the Hardcover edition.
Naseem Rakha

About Naseem Rakha

Naseem Rakha - The Crying Tree
NASEEM RAKHA is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.


"Beautifully written, expertly crafted, forcefully rendered. Naseem Rakha lays bare all the ambiguities and nuances of our culture in a story that is compelling and deep. The Crying Tree is a story of forgiveness and redemption, but at its core it is a love story as well, and that is the most powerful story of all."
--Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
In The Crying Tree Naseem Rakha uses grace and honesty to tell the gripping story of parents losing a son to murder and their desperate hope that an execution will provide closure, while allowing readers to consider the idea of forgiveness as a means of healing.
--Randy Susan Meyers, author The Murderer's Daughters
Naseem Rakha writes with both clarity and sympathy about one of the most mysterious and evasive of human impulses: forgiveness. The Crying Tree is a memorable and deeply humane novel.
--Jon Clinch, author Finn and Kings of Earth

This complex, layered story of a family's journey toward justice and forgiveness comes together through spellbinding storytelling. Deputy sheriff Nate Stanley calls home one day and announces he's accepted a deputy post in Oregon. His wife, Irene, resents having to uproot herself and their children, Shep and Bliss, from their small Illinois town, but Nate insists it's for the best. Once they've moved into their new home, Shep sets off to explore Oregon's outdoors, and things seem to be settling in nicely until one afternoon when Nate returns home to find his 15-year-old son beaten and shot in their kitchen. After Shep dies in Nate's arms, the family seeks vengeance against the young man, Daniel Joseph Robbin, accused of Shep's murder. In the 19 years between Shep's death and Daniel's legal execution, Bliss becomes all but a caretaker for her damaged parents, and a crisis pushes Irene toward the truth about what happened to Shep. Most of the big secret is fairly apparent early on, so it's a testament to Rakha's ability to create wonderfully realized characters that the narrative retains its tension to the end.--Publishers Weekly

A more common name for the "crying tree" is the willow, and one grows near Steven (Shep) Stanley's grave in Blaine, OR. This 15-year-old was killed in his home, and his best friend, Daniel, has been found guilty of the crime and waits a lethal injection on death row. Gifted musician Shep was definitely the center of the world for his mother, Irene, and the intensity of her grief is exquisitely portrayed in this moving, unsentimental tale of loss. After years of severe depression, withdrawal from her family, and alcoholism, Irene comes to realize that if she does not forgive her son's killer she will be destroyed. She secretly writes to Daniel in prison, and they begin corresponding. Then Irene receives written notice of the execution date and knows she must act. VERDICT Gifted storyteller Rakha has crafted a beautiful and passionate novel that never becomes maudlin or unbelievable. All of the characters are genuinely human, and the author even manages to save a few surprising plot details to the end. Highly recommended, especially for readers interested in the subject of loss and coping.- Library Journal

"Rakha writes of one of her central subjects, 'and it wasn't anything she knew how to handle.' Not so for the author, who has crafted not only a compelling read, but one whose message lingers: At what point does that to which we cling for our survival become the very thing that robs us of our life?"The Oregonian 

"The Crying Tree is a powerful novel full of moral questions as well as surprises. Like real life, there are no easy roads for these characters, but they make their way, one step at a time."Las Vegas Review-Journal

"The Crying Tree is hauntingly beautiful and sad as Rakha examines themes of hate, forgiveness, redemption, acceptance and love. Here, Rakha brings hard questions for which there are no black-and-white answers to the fore. Readers are forced to question their own beliefs as Rakha's characters delve into their own."Deseret News

"Absorbing and deeply melancholy….Delving into the controversial subjects of capital punishment, forbidden relationships and forgiveness for horrific
acts, [Rakha's] debut novel seems designed to inspire heated debate in book clubs."

"This is a gripping, well-paced tale, compassionate without being mawkish." -The Guardian
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Dear Readers,
In 1996, I was assigned to cover Oregon’s first execution in over thirty years. At the time I had never given much thought to the death penalty and what it would take for the state to plan out, prepare, and then kill a man. After the assignment, I wanted to learn more, so I began to interview death-row inmates, the people they had harmed, and the men and women we entrust to carry out our nation’s most severe sentence. During that time I heard many stories, some of them abhorrent and some heartbreaking, but by far the most compelling were those told by the people who had come to terms with the murder of a loved one and no longer felt it necessary to seek retribution. This arc, from the most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love stunned me, and compelled me to write The Crying Tree.
I offer these questions because they are the very ones I asked myself as I wrote this book.

Discussion Guides


Why did Irene believe that she could not tell anyone about having forgiven Robbin? What did she think would happen? What was she afraid of? Have you ever forgiven someone but been afraid to admit it?


Do you think that, like Irene, you could forgive someone who harmed your family?


Irene tells her sister that forgiving Robbin was not a choice. What do you think she meant?


Do you think it is necessary to have a belief in a God or a higher power to have made the choices Irene made? Do you think the ability to forgive can be learned?


In the first chapter, Tab Mason describes his reaction to seeing his first execution. Have you ever given much thought to how executions affect those who must carry them out?


Secrets—Nate’s, Shep’s, Irene’s—are the driving force behind the tragedy in this story. Do you think it is common for families to operate in such isolation from one another?


Nate says he moved his family west to help Shep. How did he think this would help?


How would you describe the novel’s central message or theme? And how does the ending of the book affect your understanding of the novel’s central message or theme?


Tab Mason has an unusual skin disorder. Why do you think I chose to mark him in such a way? What difference would it make, if any, if he were simply a black man? Or a white man?


Tab Mason is a man who offers “no surprises.” He is painstakingly in control of his words, his thoughts, and his emotions. And this has paid off, giving him the job, power, and resources to live a very comfortable life. Why then do you think he was willing to risk it all to help Irene Stanley?


Bliss recounts a time she found her father having an emotional breakdown while in the barn. The event was heart-wrenching for her. Bliss loved and cared for her father more than anyone, yet she does nothing to try to help. Does it make sense to you that Bliss did not try to step in and help her father?


Irene and Bliss had a difficult relationship. How was this transformed by Irene’s act of forgiveness?


Bliss feels compelled to forgo her dream of college so that she can stay in Carlton and help her parents. Have you had times in your life when you have given up your dreams to help others?


Why do you think Daniel Robbin refuses the offer to introduce new evidence that might overturn his murder conviction?


In the end, Nate is in a bus going to Shep’s grave. Why do you think he is doing this? Do you think Nate’s  character changed over the course of the book? If so, how? If not, why not?


Irene’s relationship with her church and faith were challenged in this story. In the end do you think her belief in God was stronger or weaker?

17. Why, of all the people Irene had in her life, did she open up to Doris, the woman who owned the Hitching Post in Wyoming?


After Nate’s confession, Irene leaves her husband. As she drives across the country, how do her feelings about her son’s death, Nate , and herself change?


Irene had strong feelings about staying around her family (“You don’t leave family,” in chapter 2). Yet emotionally, Irene did leave her family. She was not there for her daughter through high school, she never turned to her sister for help, and she and Nate’s relationship was estranged. In the end, what did this belief in family mean? What conclusions about Nate and Irene’s future can you draw from this sentiment?


In the end, what do you think Irene, Bliss, and Tab Mason’s actions meant to Daniel Robbin?

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