My Sweet Orange Tree

José Mauro de Vasconcelos

Young Audience

Some books make us dream.
Others make us laugh.
Others awaken in us a taste for adventure.
Others turn us into great epic heroes.
And others make us cry our eyes out, from beginning to end.

Among those that made me cry, like a madeleine, were White Fang by Jack London and My Sweet Orange Tree by José Mauro de Vasconcelos.

Today, I will remain in the lands and treasures of the Portuguese language.
Today, I invite you to cry with me over the heartbreakingly broken hopes of the little boy, José, nicknamed Zeze.

He is a very small boy, just five years old. But he learned to read, all by himself. Who to love in his family? … who loves him? …. bah, there are families where there is no time to love. So as he is small, and he is intelligent, he does stupid things. The others beat him like plaster, the little kid who thinks he is funny.
Fortunately for him, in the garden, there is an orange tree – a very young orange tree, like him.
This is his friend. It will be him. He talks to the tree and the tree talks to him.
He confides in it his hopes and miseries.
His questions about being big – is it worth being big to be “it”?
The tree always answers – the tree, this sweet orange tree, has the words of wisdom and the child is appeased.

Minguinho, his tree, is the most wonderful tree in the world. It has small, shiny, hard green leaves – and at the end of its branches, some bitter oranges. Thanks to him, many will be able to overcome the immense pain of not being loved. But he is shady, his tree of love:

“Listen, Minguinho, don’t make that face. He is my best friend, but you are the absolute king of all trees, just as Luis is the absolute king of all my brothers. You have to know that people’s hearts have to be very big to hold everything they love.”
“Do you know something, Minguinho? I’m going to play marbles. You’re too unpleasant.”

So the child finds the strength to live, despite his father beating him and the others adding to it. He finds the strength to interest a real gentleman – who takes a liking to him the little boy who is too skinny and a little too smart. The gentleman doesn’t want to adopt him – the gentleman surely believes that family means love – but not at all sir, you were lucky if your family meant love. The man promises to take care of him always. He didn’t have to die. But he did die.
Zeze gives up living – what for? for whom? he is very small, and already he has too much pain in his heart.
And what happens? Will his tree be able to save him?

“Now I really knew what pain was. Pain was not being beaten into unconsciousness. It wasn’t cutting your foot with a piece of glass and getting stitches in the pharmacy. Pain was that heartbreaking thing that you had to die with and not be able to tell anyone your secret. pain that left you without strength in your arms, in your head, without even the courage to turn your head on the bolster.”

And no – the tree will not save him – the tree is torn down by the work of the town hall. Everything that the child saved is gone, nothing is left – nothing but his father, that evil and stupid man, who never understood that he had lost respect of his son.

As I bring this story back to my memory to tell you, I still remember my tears – and I think what touched me the most was realizing that it was indeed a fable, the love of family. It wasn’t true at all, it was just possible. But it didn’t have to be.

It’s something very, very important to tell and retell to children. Otherwise, how can you understand when your own parents reject you? despise you? beat you? and wish – not even your death, just your disappearance.

It’s so difficult – maybe too difficult – to say – and that’s the power of works like this, that allow some to love their parents more and others to be comforted because they are not so alone, there are other children like them.

Should I say that this book, not only would be quite simple to adapt, because it is written with the words of the characters – but also would be fantastic to adapt on a stage?

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