How exploring the hikes and waterfalls of Taiwan connected this writer to her family’s immigration story

After a number of attempts trying to fictionalize her family history, nature writer Jessica J. Lee found that her academic work in environmental history actually helped unlock how to tell the story.

“I had been trying for many years to write this story of my grandparents,” said Lee, the author of “Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts in Search of My Family’s Past,” which mixes family history, memoir and nature writing.

Lee’s maternal grandparents were both born in mainland China, emigrating first to Taiwan before ultimately settling in Canada, and Lee had attempted to write her grandparents’ story in various ways, from short stories to a novel.

She found the answer in nature. “I realized that structuring the book around landscape and nature allowed me to bring my own language into the story,” she said. “And to really say I might have had all these communication gaps with my grandparents but this is a language through which I can understand the places that mattered to them.”

Throughout the book, Lee merged the story of her family’s migration with her own experiences connecting to the nature of Taiwan, which developed in part through hiking.

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