Nature Posts

“The Overstory” by Richard Powers

They read about myrrh-tree transplanting expeditions depicted in the reliefs at Karnak, three thousand five hundred years ago. They read about trees that migrate. Trees that remember the past and predict the future. Trees that harmonize their fruiting and nutting into sprawling choruses. Trees that bomb the ground so only their own can grow. Trees that summon air forces of insects that come to save them. Trees with hollowed trunks wide enough to hold the population of small hamlets. Leaves with fur on the undersides. Thinned petioles that solve the wind. The rim of life around a pillar of dead history, each new coat as thick as the maker season is generous. 

Richard Powers The Overstory is a novel weaves through it stories of various families/individuals spanning more than a century. It is a fine example of eco-fiction that is preoccupied with discussing the perennial Man vs Nature argument. It is a vast novel not only for the subject it tackles but the vastness of the landscape Powers creates. It flits from an immigrant family to that of environmental activist to an Indian software entrepreneur who amasses a fortune by creating games to the most mesmerising character, dendrologist, Patricia Westerford. While all these lives are being described it is impossible not to draw comparisons with the peaceful and vibrant descriptions of Nature that Thoreau wrote about in the nineteenth century or even perhaps with the truly talented writer Nell Zink. But now we are at the brink of a possible ecological disaster, possibly manmade due to the wilful damage done upon the environment by man. The LitHub describes it perfectly as “Henry David Thoreau meet Georgia-Pacific“.

The genesis of this novel Powers describes in an interview to The Chicago Review of Books:

I was teaching at Stanford and living in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Just to one side of me was one of the greatest concentrations of wealth and technological might in history: the corporate HQs of Google, Apple, Intel, HP, Facebook, eBay, Cisco, Tesla, Oracle, Netflix, and so many more. To the other side were the Santa Cruz mountains, covered in redwoods. When the scramble for the future down in the valley was too much for me, I would head up to walk in the woods. These were the forests that had been clear-cut to build San Francisco, and it seemed to me that they had grown back wonderfully. But one day, I came across a single tree that had, for whatever reason, escaped the loggers. It was the width of a house, the length of a football field, and as old as Jesus or Caesar. Compared to the trees that had so impressed me, it was like Jupiter is to the Earth.

I began to imagine what they must have looked like, those forests that would not return for centuries, if ever. It seemed to me that we had been at war for a long time, trees and people, and I wondered if it might be possible for things ever to go any other way. Within a few months, I quit my job at Stanford and devoted myself full time to writing The Overstory.

Yet the gloomy moments of the book are more than compensated for by the hope written on the last page of this stunningly magnificent book.

His friends begin to chant in a very old language. It strikes Nick as strange, how few languages he understands. One and a half human ones. Not a single word of all the other living, speaking things. But what these men chant Nick half grasps, and when the songs are finished, he adds, Amen, if only because it may be the single oldest word he knows. The older the word, the more likely it is to be both useful and true. In fact, he read once, … that the word tree and the word truth came from the same root. 

The best compliment he could ever have received was from fellow novelist Barbara Kingsolver who reviewed his book for the New York Times. Upon reading her review he was ‘beside himself with gratitude to Kingsolver. “I just feel so lucky,” he says. “She makes a case for a broader way of reading me.” Taking issue with Powers’ reputation for cold, science-y novels, Kingsolver writes The Overstory “accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.” ‘

The Overstory is a powerful testimony to the decades of environmental activism and the damage man can cause. Yet it is not a novel meant for all readers. It is not an easy book to read and requires intense engagement. Even Powers has had to admit that it was a life-changing experience for him writing The Overstory, akin to a “religious conversion“. Award-winning novelist Powers is known to combine his passion for philosophy with science. In his 12th novel he has done much the same opting to talk about the environment, a subject that is not only dear to his heart but extremely relevant now. No wonder it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018.

To buy on Amazon India: 

Paperback

Hardback

Kindle

26 October 2018 

Jaya’s newsletter 3 – 11 November 2016

( Please feel free to write with suggestions and comments: jayabhattacharjirose1 at gmail dot com )

Hello!

On 8 September 2016, the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 was announced by the government of India. Newly designed currency, freshly minted with embedded chips will be brought into circulation. It is a move to counter black money in the country but it would be interesting to know how this impacts many of the publishers and booksellers in India, many of whom deal predominantly in cash. For now it is impossible to tell.

New Arrivals

  • Jorge Carrion Bookshops (MacLehose Press)
  • Cecilia Ahern Lyrebird ( HarperCollins India)
  • Jeff Kinney Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down ( Puffin, PRH India)
  • Twinkle Khanna The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad ( Juggernaut)
  • Bina Shah A Season for Martyrs ( Speaking Tiger)
  • Ritu Menon Loitering with Intent ( Speaking Tiger)
  • T.J.S. George Askew ( Aleph)
  • Anthony Horowitz Magpie Murders ( Hachette)
  • Jeffrey Archer This was a Man ( Pan MacMillan India )

Jaya Recommends:

  • Rajelakshmy, a physicist by training who published these extraordinary “feminist” stories in the weeklyimg_20161111_102225 Mathrubhumi and monthly Mangalodayam. She committed suicide in 1965 but the stories and the incomplete novel have been compiled together for the first time as A Path and Many Shadows& Twelve Stories  (Translated from Malayalam by R.K. Jayasree, Orient Black Swan)
  • oddny-eirOddny Eir’s incredibly stunning Land of Love and Ruins.  It is a semi-autobiographical reflection on nature, literature, philosophy and commerce. Oddny Eir has also written songs for Bjork.  (Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton, Restless Books)
  • Seirai Yuichi’s magnificent Ground Zero, Nagasaki : Short Stories . These22329531 chilling stories set in contemporary Nagasaki are about the  minority community of Japanese practising Catholicism and trying to survive the endless trauma of the atomic bomb. (Translated by Paul Warham. Columbia University Press)
  • Raina Telgemeier’s absorbingly brilliant graphic novel Ghosts. It is about ghostslittle Catrina who has cystic fibrosis and celebration of Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. It is to be released at the Comic Con, Bangalore. (Scholastic India)

Book Events

11 Nov: Sahitya Akademi symposium on Rajelakshmy at 5:30pm

11-13 Nov: Kathakar, Children’s Literature Festival, IGNCA New Delhi followed by 14 November at the IGNCA Bengaluru and on 17 November at the CSMVS, Mumbai

12-13 Nov: Comic Con, Bangalore

14 Nov: Simon & Schuster India will be celebrating 5 years in India (By invitation only)

15 Nov: Shauna Singh Baldwin will be in conversation with Amrita Bhalla to discuss the diasporic writings about shaunas-conversationSouth Asian life and culture and will also talk about and read from her latest book “Reluctant Rebellions”.

People & Jobs 

Rahul Dixit has been appointed Sales Director, HarperCollins India. He was earlier with PRH India.

gillon-aitken-and-v-s-naipaul

Gillon Aitken with V.S. Naipaul, Amer Fort, Jaipur. (C) Patrick French

A few days ago legendary literary agent, Gillon Aitken, passed away. Patrick French posted a short tribute on his Facebook page along with some marvellous photographs. Republished with permission.

A one-year vacancy of the books editor at The Caravan Magazine has been announced.

Prizes

  • The Order of the Rising Sun – Gold & Silver Ray, the highest civilian award by Imperial manorama-jaffa-2-japan-award manorama-jaffaMajesty of Japan, was conferred on Manorama Jaffa in recognition of her contribution to children’s writing in India. After Prof. Brij Tankha, Mrs. Jaffa is the second Indian to have been honoured.
  • SPARROW Literary Award 2016: The SPARROW panel of judges (N Sukumaran, Kannan Sundaram and Ambai) for SPARROW-R Thyagarajan Literary Award decided to choose the category of translation for award this year. Translations from one Indian language to another and direct translation from a foreign language (other than English) to Tamil were taken for consideration. The SPARROW-R Thyagarajan Literary Award 2016 will go to Kulachal S M Yoosuf for his translations from Malayalam to Tamil, Gowri Kirubanandan, for her translations from Telugu to Tamil and Sridharan Madhusudhanan for his translations from Chinese to Tamil.
  • French-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani won the Goncourt, France’s top literary prize. The former journalist is only the seventh woman to have won the Goncourt in its 112-year history. The novel has been a best seller — more than 76,000 copies have been purchased so far.
  • Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing won the Giller Prize ( $100,000)
  • Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Loves won the 2016 Canada-Japan Literary Award (English category). And Genevieve Blouin’s Hanaken: Le Sang des Samourais won in the French category.
  • orhan-pamukOrhan Pamuk won the 1million rouble (US$15,715) Russian Yasnaya Polyana Literary Prize, based at Leo Tolstoy’s estate. Pamuk’s novel A Strangeness in My Mind  translated into Russian in 2016, won in the “Foreign literature” nomination of the award, which aims to support both the traditions of classical literature and new trends in contemporary writing. ( http://bit.ly/2fnbDxT ) The Russian translator of Pamuk’s novel, Apollinaria Avrutina, receives a prize of 200,000 rubles (US$3,143). The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Prize was founded in 2003 by Samsung Electronics and the museum and estate of Leo Tolstoy in Tula. According to the jury chairman Vladimir Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s great grandson and cultural advisor to the Russian president, the award is meant to help readers find their way in the world of Russia’s literature and international contemporary books—a universal reply to the question “What to read?”

Meanwhile PEN America has released a revised version of its modified contract for literary translations . It is worth looking at.

Miscellaneous

walking-bookfairsBookshops: In Lucknow the iconic Ram Advani’s bookshop closed down on Sunday, 6 November 2016 as there was no one left to run it after his death. But there was good news with the resurrection of Walking Bookfairs, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. After the book shack was demolished the founders Satabdi Mishra and Bahibala Akshaya built a new bookstore saying “Bookstores around the world are closing down. And we are opening a new one. Because we are madly in love with books and bookstores. Long live bookstores!”

reemLondon-based publisher, Reem Makhoul, of Ossass gave a tremendous interview to Marcia Lynx Qualey, ArabLit on children’s literature where Reem says they wanted to give the children what they are familiar with, so began creating beautiful books in colloquial Arabic.  Amazon too seeing the potential of a reading habit has launched an app for children – Amazon Rapids Recently the Financial Times listed a series of smartphone reading apps or a mobile library such as The Pigeonhole, Alexi and Oolipo.

11 Nov 2016 

Helen Macdonald, “H is for Hawk”

H is for HawkThe archaeology of grief is not ordered. ( p.199)

Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is about her relationship with her goshawk, Mabel. Grieving for the Mabel on her first day at homesudden loss of her father, a well-known Fleet Street photographer, Helen Macdonald decides to buy a goshawk for eight hundred pounds sterling and train it — in the hope it will help her deal with her sadness. Her love for the bird stems from a lifelong passion for the wild birds of prey. As a child she scoured bookshops with her father to buy books on the subject. It is during one of those missions she came across T.H. White’s The Goshawk. With time and repeated readings, her understanding of the book and of the writer evolved too. Helen is an experienced falconer but never an austringer. Yet, she decided to buy Mabel and train her on the outskirts of Cambridge but as she discovers, “the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.” ( p.218)

According to her literary agency, Marsh Agency, Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches to graduate level. Over the years she’s also worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a professional falconer, assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia, and bred hunting falcons for Arab royalty. She’s also sold paintings, worked as an antiquarian bookseller, organised academic conferences, shepherded a flock of fifty ewes and once attended an arms fair by mistake. Helen’s blog Fretmarks contains short essays on subjects as various as wild boar, Brighton, pop culture, World War II, golden orioles, solar eclipses, travels in Central Asia, falconry, and many of her experiences with Mabel. www.fretmarks.blogspot.com Helen can be found on twitter as @HelenJMacdonald. (http://www.marsh-agency.co.uk/authors/?id=3513)

New_H-and-mabel-wa_2987055cH is for Hawk is a beautiful meditation on nature, loneliness and mourning.  The exquisite manner in which it is written, making extraordinary use of the English language is breathtaking. Helen Macdonald deservedly won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2014 and Costa Book of the Year 2014. Many  reviewers have commended it for it being a memoir, albeit a misery memoir. For me, H is for Hawk, H is for T.H.White, H is for Helen, and H is for her father. If it is the only book you  have time for this year, read it. It wont be time or money wasted. It will be an enriching experience.

Read an extract from her book:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10989164/H-is-for-Hawk-Helen-Macdonalds-intense-relationship-with-her-goshawk-Mabel.html .

Some reviews

1. Janette Curie, “Grief and the goshawk” TLS, 29 Oct 2014 ( http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1476820.ece )

2. Kathryn Schulz, “Rapt: Grieving with your goshawk.” The New Yorker, 9 March 2015 ( http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/09/rapt )

3.   Nick Willoughby “You can’t tame grief”: Helen Macdonald on her bestselling memoir “H Is for Hawk” Salon, 10 March 2015 (http://www.salon.com/2015/03/09/you_can%E2%80%99t_tame_grief_helen_macdonald_on_her_bestselling_memoir_h_is_for_hawk/ )

4. Marck Cocker,  “H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald” The Guardian, 23 July 2014 ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/23/h-is-for-hawk-helen-macdonald-review )

A few notable meditations on Nature published in recent months:

1. George Monbiot ” Back to Nature” http://www.bbc.com/earth/bespoke/story/20141203-back-to-nature/index.html

2. George Macfarlane “The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape”, 27 February 2015 (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/robert-macfarlane-word-hoard-rewilding-landscape?CMP=share_btn_fb )

3. Anand Vivek Taneja, ” A city without time: Anand Vivek Taneja remembers a dead river in a Delhi that has turned its back on it, just as it has on a language that was its own” March 2015 (http://indianquarterly.com/a-city-without-time/)

4. Ruskin Bond A Book of Simple Living Speaking Tiger Books, New Delhi, India. Hb. 2015

( Note: The images used in this blog post are off the internet, discovered using Google images. I do not hold the copyright to these photographs.)

Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk Vintage Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, London, 2014. Pb. pp.300 £8.99 

Ruskin Bond “A Book of Simple Living: Brief Notes from the Hills”

Ruskin BondLove your art, poor as it may be, which you have learned, and be content with it; and pass through the rest of life like one who has entrusted to the gods with his whole soul and all that he has, making yourself neither the tyrant nor the slave of any man. – Marcus Aurelius

‘Love your art, poor as it may be…’ I have never regretted following this precept, despite the fact that it was sometimes difficult to make ends meet as a writer. The gift for putting together words and sentences to make stories or poems or essays has carried me through life with a certain serenity and inner harmony, which could not have come from any unloved vocation.

Within my own ‘art’ I think I have known my limitations and worked within them, thus sparing myself the bitter disappointment that comes to those whose ambitions stretch far beyond their talents. To know one’s limitations and to do good work within them: more is achieved that way than by overreaching oneself. It is no use trying to write a masterpiece every year if you are so made as to write only one in ten or twenty. In between, there are other good things that can be written — smaller things but satisfying in their own way. 

Do what you know best, and do it well. Act impeccably. Everything will then fall into place. 

Because I have loved my art, I think I have been able to pass through life without being any man’s slave or tyrant. I doubt I have ever written a story or essay or workaday article unless I have really wanted to write it. And in this way I have probably suffered materially, because I have never attempted a blockbuster of a novel, or a biography of a celebrity, or a soap opera. But in the end things have worked out well. I am a writer without regrets, and that is no small achievement! 

(p.73-75)

Ruskin Bond is well known in India for his stories and essays about childhood, the time he spent with his grandparents, schooldays, descriptions of life and nature in Mussorie and of course, his innumerable short stories such as “The Blue Umbrella”. A Book of Simple Living: Brief Notes from the Hills is a compilation of years of wisdom distilled and offered simply. These range from reflections upon life, to what constitutes love, learning to be at peace with yourself, observations on Nature. There is plenty to mull over in this slim book. What comes through extraordinary well in this book is how beautifully intertwined the concepts of nurturing and honing one’s art are. In life, nurturing requires immense amounts of patience, huge dollops of love, observation, reflection and judicious amounts of nourishment to ensure a healthy life. Similarly with one’s craft –slowly and steadily with time it improves. One of my favourite passages from the book is:

The wild ginger was in flower. So was agrimony, lady’s lace, wild geranium. The ferns were turning yellow. The fruit of the snake lily had turned red, signifying an end to the rains. A thrush whistled on the branch of a dead walnut tree. A tiny swarm of butterflies rose from behind a lime-green bush. ( p.28)

Evocative.

A Book of Simple Living is Speaking Tiger’s inaugural title. Speaking Tiger (http://speakingtigerbooks.com/ and on 20150303_113530Twitter @speakingtiger14 ) is a division of FEEL Books Private Limited, a book publishing and distribution company based in Delhi. It was founded in September 2014 by Manas Saikia and Ravi Singh. Publishing primarily in English, Speaking Tiger will build a diverse and inclusive list, with no fixed agenda other than to bring to readers quality fiction and non-fiction across genres.

20150303_113545Ruskin Bond’s A Book of Simple Living is a fine book. A great blessing from a well-established writer to a fledgling publishing house. Having thoroughly enjoyed this book, one to treasure too, I cannot help but feel that these are the slim pickings from a memoir.  Ruskin Bond is working upon it. It will be published by Speaking Tiger in December 2015. I look forward to it.

Ruskin Bond A Book of Simple Living: Brief Notes from the Hills Speaking Tiger, an imprint of FEEL Books Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2015. Hb. pp. 160 Rs 350 

3 March 2015

Zafar Futehally ” The Song of the Magpie Robin – a memoir”

Zafar FutehallyZafar Futehally was a well-known birder, naturalist and writer. He was one of the pioneers of the conservation movement in India and was instrumental in making it an important middle class concern. For instance getting an advertisement for WWF in a popular magazine of those days.

We had no scruples in ‘using’ any of our friends to advance our work; Khushwant Singh was the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India in those days, and he promised Shama a full-page advertisement for the WWF in the Weekly if she wrote a completely original article on sparrows. Shama wrote it, and we got our first big advertisement for the Indian appeal. It was designed by Alyque Padamsee, and showed a tiger with the caption ‘Born Free, Sentenced to Death’. ( p.138)

Zafar Futehally’s fascination for bird watching began when accompanied Salim Ali on his expeditions. There are some fabulous memories he recalls of those expeditions. This book was written in collaboration with Shanthi Chandola and Ashish Chandola. They persuaded Zafar Futehally to email them short articles/notes recalling his life, especially related to conservation. All though charmingly written and a little uneven, it is a valuable addition to the history of conservation in India. As George B. Schaller says in his foreword:

Wildlife was little studied or appreciated in India during the 1960s, other than along the sight of a gun. But Zafar already had a vision, as he expressed in 1969 in a keynote speech at the General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) held in Delhi, an event I also attended. ‘What I came to do is to reflect the concern of the ordinary citizen about our deteriorating environment.’ And he turned this thought superbly into action. With tenacity and tact, he built bridges between organizations, nurturing their conservation efforts, whether it was promoting green areas in Bangalore ( now Bengaluru), establishing the Karnala Bird Sanctuary or other initiatives that revealed his deep concern and respect for the natural world. He knew that unrestricted development would deprive India of a healthy environment and a secure future, a message he delivered persistently and with the quiet authority of someone who was a high-ranking member of every major conservation organization in the country and a Founder of World Wildlife Fund ( WWF)-India. He,  more than anyone in India, helped forge awareness that the environment, with all its species of animals and plants, must be protected. That is his lasting legacy. ( p.xiii)

Zafar Futehally’s wife, Laeeq Futehally, was a notable writer about nature herself. She wrote many books, including co-authoring some with Salim Ali. But A Sahib’s Manual for the Mali of articles edited by her is an all-time favourite of mine. ( http://permanent-black.blogspot.in/2008/08/cricket-music-gardening-new-paperbacks.html )

Zafar Futehally The Song of the Magpie Robin: A Memoir Rainlight, Rupa, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. p.200 Rs. 500

Some of the other books and essays related to Nature that I came across in 2014 were:

1. George Schaller Deki, the Adventures of  a Dog and a Boy in Tibet A lovely, moving and brilliant story about a boy and his dog also an Dekiintroduction to the environment. It is scrumptiously illustrated by an artist from the Tibetan art collective, Gyurmey Dorjee. According to the publisher, Permanent Black, on their blog,

DEKI is a magical book that will have you instantly under its spell. It is a blend of great story-telling and acute observation of nature and animals. As you read it you travel the stark, barren plateau of Tibet and discover its animals, monasteries, birds, nomads. Thrilling chases and cliff-hanger moments decide the battle between good and evil as the book explores the question: freedom or security, which do you choose? ( http://permanent-black.blogspot.in/2014/05/the-story-of-book.html )

I agree. I read it slowly. Savoured it.

It has been jointly published by Black Kite and Hachette India.

Indian Mammals_bookcover_website2. Vivek Menon Indian Mammals: A Field Guide It is described a reference and exceptionally usable guide to the mammals of India. It is four-colour with more than 400 species of both land and water mammals.

3. George Monbiot’s essay “Back to Nature”. The first article in BBC Earth’s ‘A World of View’ series of essays by leading environmental authors. ( http://www.bbc.com/earth/bespoke/story/20141203-back-to-nature/index.html )wild_wisdom_quiz_book

4. The Wild Wisdom Quiz Book published by Puffin India and WWF India. It consists of questions, trivia and illustrations compiled from India’s only national level quiz on wildlife.

29 Dec 2014