AJ Cronin and I have a lot in common. We are both doctors and writers. We are both misunderstood. The list is quite exhaustive. Naturally I gravitated towards this book, The Judas Tree, because of the shared background and the theological connotations of the title. Theology is one of my deep interests. Judas is best known as the ultimate traitor. He betrayed his master for a paltry sum of silver coins, thirty of them to be exact. In penance for his sin he committed suicide by connecting his neck to a tree branch via a rope and letting gravity do the rest.
The book is semi-autobiographical just like most of the writer’s works. The protagonist, Dr. David Morey, is the typical rags-to-riches character of a doctor who struggled to come out of training but was blown away by one of the myriad opportunities the profession offers. He proposes to marry an innocent rural lass, Mary, and falls deathly ill will a respiratory tract infection which forces him to take to the seas for fresh air. He gets a job as the Ship Surgeon and quickly draws the attention of the well-to-do Holbrook family. His potential is undeniable. Their daughter, Dottie, throws herself at David and he is trapped in a life of luxury. He goes on to marry the spoiled brat and earn his stake in the family fortune.
Relief comes when Dottie finally dies. He starts to look back on the life he ran away from and the girl he let down. The esteemed doctor heads back home, Scotland, in search of redemption. He finds Mary also buried and Providence affords him acquaintance with Mary’s daughter Kathy whom he tries to spoil the way he always hoped to spoil her mother. This road leads to his own Judas tree, lálbero dei dannati, the Italian term for ‘the tree of lost souls.’
The language is flowery and fluid. The characters invoke such deep emotions you get the feeling that the author actually had a feel of all those emotions himself. I highly regard AJ Cronin and I highly recommend this book.