The Gospel of Trees

A Memoir

The Gospel of Trees

In this compelling, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Apricot Irving recounts her childhood as a missionary’s daughter in Haiti during a time of upheaval—both in the country and in her home.

Apricot Irving grew up as a missionary’s daughter in Haiti—a country easy to sensationalize but difficult to understand. Her father was an agronomist, a man who hiked alone into the hills with a macouti of seeds to preach the gospel of trees in a deforested but resilient country. Her mother and sisters, meanwhile, spent most of their days in the confines of the hospital compound they called home. As a child, this felt like paradise to Irving; as a teenager, the same setting felt like a prison. Outside of the walls of the missionary enclave, Haiti was a tumult of bugle-call bus horns and bicycles that jangled over hard-packed dirt, the clamor of chickens and cicadas, the sudden, insistent clatter of rain as it hammered across tin roofs and the swell of voices running ahead of the storm.

As she emerges into womanhood, an already confusing process made all the more complicated by Christianity’s demands, Irving struggles to understand her father’s choices. His unswerving commitment to his mission, and the anger and despair that followed failed enterprises, threatened to splinter his family.

Beautiful, poignant, and explosive, The Gospel of Trees is the story of a family crushed by ideals, and restored to kindness by honesty. Told against the backdrop of Haiti’s long history of intervention—often unwelcome—it grapples with the complicated legacy of those who wish to improve the world. Drawing from family letters, cassette tapes, journals, and interviews, it is an exploration of missionary culpability and idealism, told from within.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Gospel of Trees includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Apricot Irving. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In this compelling memoir, Apricot Irving reckons with her family’s complex relationship to Haiti—and to one another. As a child, Irving and her two young sisters move with their missionary parents to aid in the reforestation of Haiti. But Haiti is as unpredictable as her father’s temper, and as time marches forward each member of the family comes to see their time in Haiti as complicated and messy; there are no easy fixes to the deep injustices Irving’s family witnesses from their privileged position on the mission compound. Told from memory, diary entries, and historical fact, The Gospel of Trees confronts the pains of growing up, fitting in, and finding your own voice in a country and a family that both terrify and delight you.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. In the prelude, Apricot Irving warns us that “stories, like archaeology, are fragmentary, composed of scraps and nuances” (3). Why do you think she wants us to be aware that this story see more

About the Author

Apricot Irving
Tyler Merkel

Apricot Irving

Apricot Anderson Irving is currently based in the woods outside Portland, Oregon, but has lived in Haiti, Indonesia, and the UK. Her missionary parents moved to Haiti when she was six years old; she left at the age of fifteen. She returned to Haiti in the spring of 2010 to cover the earthquake for the radio program This American Life. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship. Her renowned oral history project,, was a collaboration between youth and elders to record the stories of a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. She loves to garden, and on rare occasions she can be persuaded to belt out Irish folk songs in bars. The Gospel of Trees is her first book.