Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster—Svetlana Alexievich

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voices-from-chernobyl“Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There’s nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air.”

On 26 April 1986, Energy Block No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station was destroyed by a series of explosions. This was one of the biggest technological disasters of the twentieth century, and no one was prepared for it. Soviet officials—under enormous political pressure from from those at the top who worried about how the country would be perceived after this—tended to err on the side of caution. (More information on the reaction.)

Ten years after the explosions, Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist and author, began talking to the survivors, including residents of the area and those who came to clean up. Their testimonies form this book. Alexievich stands back and lets the people speak. And an oral history of the disaster emerges from the monologues of those whose voices had not yet been heard.

While it did not even have a nuclear reactor on its soil, Belarus has been the most affected by Chernobyl. It lost 485 of its villages and settlements. Of a total of 10 million people, some 2.1 million—or one in five, of whom 700,000 are children—now live on contaminated land. In the two regions that are closest to Chernobyl, mortality rates are 20 percent higher than birth rates.

Through these individual stories, the author builds up an overall picture of what really happened, both during the Chernobyl disaster and its aftermath. What comes through is a suffering that is unimaginable and an unthinkable negligence on the part of the authorities.

Many of the interviewees spoke of the beauty of Chernobyl’s landscape—and its stillness. As if even the birds knew something terrible had happened, and left. But radiation is an invisible and lethal enemy. Farmers living off the land could not understand why they had to milk their cows and then throw the milk away. Or why they could not eat the carrots and cucumbers they grew. Although the liquidators—civil and military staff who cleaned up—were asked to dig up the topsoil and bury it deep in the earth, keeping it away from the water table, this did not always happen in practice.

An interviewee spoke of the liquidators who helped clear up the roof of the reactor. The lead vests they wore were of no use as the radiation came from below them. The only “protection” they had for their feet were cheap imitation-leather boots. The liquidators would spend a minute and a half to two minutes a day frantically cleaning up the debris, and then would be let go with a hundred roubles and a certificate. “And then they disappeared into the vast peripheries of our motherland….They were young guys. They’re dying now, but they understand that if it wasn’t for them…These are people who came from a certain culture, the culture of the great achievement. They were a sacrifice.”

The unquestioning faith of citizens in their state and their duty is striking. Those who were called upon to go to Chernobyl went without protest. People in the exclusion zone were not too concerned, initially. After all, if the situation was really so serious, would the authorities not have informed them? However, their faith did not survive Chernobyl.

This book is not for the squeamish. On a physical level, there are graphic descriptions of what radiation can do to humans. Every pregnancy was a nightmare. There is a telling remark made by a midwife: “It was a long time since I had seen a happy pregnant woman”. Many women opted for abortions. Children who were carried to term were born deformed.

On an emotional level, the stories are heartbreaking. Lyudmilla, for example, was married to a fireman who was part of the clean-up operation and was dying of radiation sickness. Through it all, she nursed him, refusing to leave his side, trying to protect him as best she could. “And they photographed him. For science, they said. I’d have pushed them all out of there!…How dare they? It’s all mine—it’s my love.” Those who moved to another part of the country were stigmatized.

Listening to these stories—and it really does feel like you’re listening to them—is overwhelming. There were times when I felt numb because of the sheer volume of detail, told and retold. The author’s writing reflects the people as they speak, flat and repetitive at times, lyrical at others. Alexiviech has found a way to bring the disaster to life simply by listening to ordinary people who have seen it first-hand.

A photographer, Viktor Latun, captured the events in Chernobyl in the days after the disaster. He is quoted as saying: “We don’t live on this earth, but in our dreams, in our conversations. Because you need to add something to this ordinary life, in order to understand it. Even when you’re near death.”

In 2015, Svetlana Alexiviech was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. And I can see why. The voices she records in her book stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

Italian Shoes: Henning Mankell

italian-shoesWe find an aging man, living by himself on a Swedish island, where he has been in solitude since his retirement 12 years back. Once, he made a mistake he regrets so badly he has left everything to stay by himself with only a cat and a dog for company.

His world is suddenly disrupted when Harriet, his first and only love, who is suffering from a deadly illness, comes to see him to claim a promise he made before he left her; that he would take her to a pool in the forest he visited as a child.

For the first time in many years, Frederick is forced not only to think about the past, but also to confront it in flesh and blood, and by that, also to change his situation, and shape a different future.

Frederick is not able to understand why he left Harriet, nor is she. Indeed, there are a number of things about himself and the choices he has made in life that he is not able to comprehend, and he must realise that he has not always been a good person. He cannot make up for everything that has been lost, but he can try to fulfill his promise.

Throughout the book, the reader gets to know more and more why Frederick has decided to abandon everything to live on an island. A journey which takes the reader through a number of encounters; Italian shoemakers living in the forest, girls who have fled war but are unable to escape conflicts which continue inside themselves, athletes who lost everything, and professional postcard writers.

Sometimes Mankell’s stories are so farfetched they become difficult to relate to, but every story also has a purpose. As in his other books, Mankell wants his readers to be reminded of those who are worse off, including those who live far away, to be made uncomfortable by the large inequalities that exist in the world today.

Italian Shoes is a book about getting old, loneliness, and how our life choices affect us. It makes us consider what is really important. Despite the many opportunities to change his life journey, for our hero, doing so seems very hard. This is the situation for many people, and should remind us to reflect about our situation – time passes fast and at certain point things can no longer be done, or undone, depending on the situation. 

Despite the difficult themes, the book is beautiful, almost poetic. Mankell’s language, and the way he depicts Frederick and his emotional journey, makes this a book that should be prioritised. 

The MFA & the Literary Consultant: A dilettante’s procrastinations

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The articles posted on this blog have so far concentrated exclusively on books and reading. With this article, Thomas Peak is turning the focus to the other side of the process—the writing. How should aspiring writers hone their craft? Thomas shares his thoughts on the pros and cons of creative writing courses and literary consultancies.

Today, most aspiring writers will, at some point, have flirted with the notorious ‘MFA Dilemma’. Should I or shouldn’t I? Can I or can’t I? Well, the MFA (Master in Fine Arts, thank you very much) presents an opportunity to spend two or three years honing one’s craft in the comfort of some of the most literaryfriendly university towns in America. Opportunities criss-cross the continent; choices range from the Ivy League experience at Brown, where literary experiments are encouraged within the cosy confines of quaint New England red-bricks, through the bustling urban creative scenes at Colombia or Boston U., and stretch to the Bohemian Californian coast where the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford imposes not a single distraction upon the process of thinking, drafting, rethinking, redrafting. The top programmes fully-fund all those accepted, and accordingly, competition for this first step into professional writing is, so they say, ‘fierce’. This MFA system has been hailed as the most extensive – certainly the most meritocratic – system of artistic patronage yet established. And places such as Texas, John Hopkins, Virginia, Vanderbilt, and the famed Writers-Workshop in Iowa (whose influence has elevated inconspicuous, small-town, Iowa City into North America’s only UNESCO City of Literature) present opportunities for the cream of literary aspirants in some, perhaps, how should we say?, unexpected settings.

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But in this day and age, we are well aware that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Dissatisfied rumblings abound on blogs and think-pieces decrying the ‘MFA Machine’. The sprawling empire of the accredited professional stalks the literary world, spewing forth an endless stream of first time writers, accredited artists, mechanised novelists producing work beaten within an inch of its life by the orthodoxies of de-individualising seminar critiques akin to Maoist self-criticisms. So we have both the fear and the promise of the MFA. Because how does one get work in front of its audience? For many emerging writers, the feeling is that to slink before the editor-agent-publisher, one almost requires an MFA. But will the work survive this pounding indoctrination, the threat of systematic creativity?

And then there is the cost.

For the top programmes, to get an offer you must beat anywhere between 100 and 130 others. With these odds, applying to a single programme would be confidence bordering upon the reckless. Really, it only makes sense to go with at least 5 or 6 choices, and at up to $100 per application, excluding postage of hefty manuscripts, this represents a not inconsiderable investment, with fleeting chances of success. On top of this, applications swallow a considerable amount of time, the dreaded ‘Personal Statement’ for instance; you are pretending to be a writer after all, so this must be, all together, insightful, succinct, witty, and, for sure, effortless. But just like a super model’s makeup, natural is the hardest look.

Part of the trouble with writing is the uncertainty. Do I have a readership? Talent? Something to say that resonates? In this sense, the MFA application process could be seen as, less dipping a toe into the waters, more hurling oneself head first through the ice. Hell-for-leather. Because if the end result is a constant stream of polite-yet-generic rejections, the inevitable answer to these questions is ‘probably not’. Of course, one could say the same about the agent soliciting process (which is brutal, on this I speak from experience) but there is always the consolation that you were simply ‘not ready yet’. A brick-wall from the hardened bouncers loitering outside the MFA Garden of Eden is far more definitive. One must ask, am I ready for that type of rejection? Might it stifle my promising yet premature art in unforeseen ways, viciously kneecapping fragile self-confidence?

If you have read this far, then similar thoughts have possibly entered your mind too, dear friend. And you may also have considered an alternative route: forking out for a literary consultancy report. Perhaps the road-less-travelled, it is financially equivalent to the MFA application process minus some of the gruelling process, such as bothering loved ones for personal references, and posting big fat manuscripts all over the American continent. A literary consultancy will evaluate your work, and offer a blunt yet honest assessment. If it is bad, hopefully, they will tell you; if it is middling, they will suggests ways to improve; if it is good (enough) then perhaps they will recommend you to agents. Whilst they may not exactly be ‘talent scouts’, they don’t want a good thing to slip through their friends’ fingers either. However, as Ferrante’s Elena Greco discovered, one person’s dross could be another’s masterpiece. And the literary consultant gives a single – albeit expert – opinion, whilst the MFA process will put you on the desks of numerous readers at multiple institutions.

For now, this is where we part. Having drafted some stories, mostly narrative love letters so far, prematurely self-published a first novel, only to retract for improvement beyond recognition, and in the meantime having begun a second, I have the material. I have, too, the desire to reach past overly kind friends and to finally find out, do I have an audience? The MFA promises a golden dawn of time, encouragement, opportunity, inspiration. Yet it also threatens rejection, deep – potentially crippling – rejection, and even in success, there hovers the noose of conformity. The literary consultant offers consolation, nuance, and even a shortcut to the editor’s desk, but, at what loss?

Photo: Jim Nix

The Glorious Heresies: Lisa McInerney

glorious-heresiesAn intruder breaks into Maureen Phelan’s apartment. Without thinking, she brains him with a Holy Stone, a religious relic. Worrying over the dead body and the blood seeping into the grout on the kitchen floor, she calls her son James, a gangster, to deal with the mess. James asks his old friend Tony Cusack to help, figuring that Tony—who doesn’t have a job and is trying to raise six children on his own—needs the money and can be relied on to keep his mouth shut. Tony recognizes the corpse as Robbie, a junkie, and lets the name slip to Maureen, who then starts to see Robbie’s sad ghost wandering around the house. When Georgie, Robbie’s girlfriend, starts looking for him and comes to Tony’s house asking questions, things start to get complicated. Throw into this mix Ryan, Tony’s 15-year-old son, embarking simultaneously on a career as a drug dealer and his first love affair; Tara, a nosy woman preying on people under the guise of doing good; and a religious cult called Christians Active In Light, and things get very complicated indeed.

Lisa McInerney uses the murder and the ripples it creates to open a door into the underworld of Cork—a world peopled by gangsters, whores, drug dealers and alcoholics. People on the make, trying to survive and make a go of it—or not. It’s a small world where everyone is linked in some way to everyone else, and there is no escape.

The history of Ireland permeates the pages, especially the grip of the Catholic Church. Maureen visits the now-abandoned Laundry, where unwed mothers used to be sent, and where she would have gone if she had been born a generation earlier. In spite of escaping the Laundry, she has been scarred by the fear of “the priests, the nuns and the neighbours”. Thinking that there is “nothing as cleansing as a fire”, she sets a country church alight, much to the horror of her son, who is beginning to regret bringing his mother back from London.

McInerney writes in short, punchy sentences that bring this world alive, and the characters practically leap off the page. They have depths that are revealed as you get to know them. Maureen is a wonderful creation—feisty and perceptive with a shrewd understanding of what the world can do to people. Ryan’s truculence hides a more sensitive side, a musician “whose fingers had the grace for concertos so long as there was no one there to hear them”. There are moments of lyricism in the midst of all the mayhem: “He was out of booze and in no shape to get more; he was logey from the heat and too caught up in the kaleidoscope of memories to want to leave the house. The children had scattered in the sunshine.”

This is McInerney’s first novel and won the Bailey’s women’s prize for fiction. I can see why. It is a rambunctious novel, full of black humour, that pulls no punches.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—JK Rowling, John Thorne and John Tiffany

So yoharry-potter-and-the-cursed-childu thought we’d come to the end of the Harry Potter story…well, think again. JK Rowling, with some help this time, has written another instalment. This one takes place 19 years after the events of the last Potter book, and the plot revolves around Harry’s second son, Albus Severus Potter. (Note: I’m writing this on the assumption that the readers are familiar with the Harry Potter books/movies.)

Harry, now an employee in the Ministry of Magic, has a difficult relationship with Albus, who doesn’t want to be the son of a famous father, especially as he feels he could never live up to him. Not only does he have Harry Potter for a father, but he is named after two men whom Harry admired—so no pressure there! On his first train ride to Hogwarts, Albus meets Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy. The two not only become friends but the Sorting Hat puts Albus in (gasp) Slytherin! There are rumours that Voldemort had a child, and some suspect that child is Scorpius. Then Albus decides to travel back in time with his friend to put right something his father did. But you cannot change something in the past without it having ripples in the present…

My frustration with this book was the first 30 pages felt very fragmented, as we are rushed through a bit of background. I felt like I couldn’t settle on anything because I was hurried on to the next scene. It settles down eventually, but the play still felt like there was a book trying to get out. And a novel would have done justice to the story—because it is a good story. That is something you can rely on Rowling for, with or without co-authors. Maybe it works on stage but as a book, I could have done with more depth and detail.

A Passion in the Desert: Thomas E. Kennedy

The title oa-passion-in-the-desertf this book is borrowed from a story by Balzac about betrayal and mistrust, two threads running through the book. The third is love, with all its inadequacies and flaws.

Fred Twomey is a creative writing professor, married with two sons. He has a reasonably good life—married to Jenny, an artist, with two sons and a good job, liked by his peers. But there are tremors in this seemingly perfect world.

As the book starts, he is at a conference, where he almost cheats on his wife but manages to back away before anything happens. He loves Jenny and is terrified that she will find out. Should he tell her? He senses that Jenny is drawing away from him as he is falling in love with her again and doesn’t want to push her away further. But does infidelity lie in the action or the intention to act?

Then there is his older son, Jimbo, named after Twomey’s brother. Jimbo the brother shot himself when the son was a child. And now Twomey is growing apart from his older son and cannot find a way to reach him. How can he love him when he understands him so little?

So far, these are crises that a lot of families go through. But there is a darker strand to this book. Twomey starts to notice small things going wrong—the tyres of his cycle are frequently flat; the sculpture of a child-like doll Jenny is working on is found holding a knife; and someone has been writing in Twomey’s notebook.

There is someone is haunting this story: a watcher, a stalker. Someone whose father had abandoned him as a child, leaving him vulnerable to abuse. Full of rage, he has been spying on his father’s comfortable life, determined to make him pay. And an act from Twomey’s past—the “passion in the desert” of the title—comes home to roost.

This is an extremely well-written book. The tension comes from the fact that the entire story is seen either from Twomey’s perspective, which is narrated in third person, or from the stalker’s, narrated in second person. There is no omniscient narrator. You get the feeling that you are in their heads. Although the second person narration does put a little distance between the reader and narrator, it is still disturbing.

Kennedy writes perceptively about relationships and the different facets of love. And how we betray and are betrayed by those closest to us, and somehow find a way to live with it.

My Father’s Zoo: Esther David

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Review by Sadhana Ramchander

How many people you know grew up in a zoo? How many people you know have a father who started a zoo? This is the stuff of my own childhood dreams (before zoos became bad places), and I became very excited when I saw this book at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2016. I bought the book, met Esther David who had come for one of the sessions, and told her how fascinated I was by the idea of the book!

I really enjoyed reading this small book. Esther David’s father Reuben David (1912-1989) set up the Hill Garden Zoo in Ahmedabad, which later became the Kamala Nehru Zoological Garden. A veterinary doctor, Reuben grew up with animals and had a way with them that surprised and amazed people. He opened a a clinic for dogs, and was working there when the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation decided to make a zoo around Kankaria Lake, and invited him to set it up.

‘My father’s zoo’ is about how the making of this zoo, and how it slowly filled up with animals and birds – flamingoes, bearcats, orangutans, brown bears, anteaters, tigers, lions and many others. There are interesting stories and incidents about each animal that was brought in. Hallagulla – the angry langur, Shikha, the homesick sarus crane, Vanraj and Vanrani – the rescued lion cubs that survived because of Blackie the dog who fed them along with her pups, about Parvati, the three-horned, six-legged bullock that was bought off from a sadhu who was exploiting it, and so on.

Writes Esther, “It was amazing to see father playing with a full-grown lion as if a lion was his pet dog. I often saw father in Montu’s cage as it was the laboratory for his experiments in co-existence. He had Montu from the time he was a cub and had introduced him to other animals. So Montu lived with two dogs, a tiger and a stump-tailed Macaque. They lived in total harmony but later, the tiger Raju was given another cage as Montu and he not only had ego problems, but were always in competition for father’s attention. So instead of Raju, an Alsatian was introduced into Montu’s cage”.

Illustrated in black and white by Esther, this tribute to her father makes delightful reading for children and animal lovers.

 

The Neapolitan Novels: Elena Ferrante

neapolitan-novels-boxsetThe Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante’s four-piece masterwork, is rightly the literary sensation of its time. The epic narrative, sweeping over decades, gallivanting across the life of a neighbourhood – a city – a country – an epoch, rummaging through the lives of the two protagonists, a pair locked in an inescapable lifelong bond, a bond formed in a childhood’s fear and wonder, the narrative grips and tears the reader along with it. In our company Elena and Lila grow from girls into women, they explore, they age; we are with them as they blossom and as they fade away. Raw human emotion burns through the loves, the betrayals, the hopes, tragedies, and disappointments of these beautiful women. Along the way, Ferrante does what all great writers do, and once she has you within the warm embrace of her novel, she moves you, she touches and caresses you.

And then, in between the second reading fiercely demanded, now a third, and if only for a while at least, life outside of her Naples, her Italy, feels clearer, the contours of reality sharper, crisper, and she does it by fudging our understandings, our beliefs, our selves.

It is brutal of course, but so is life. A hopeless, violent neighbourhood lurks in the background – soaked in a heavy, leaden, kind of poverty, the kind that nobody ever truly leaves behind – it exhausts the dreams of youth, exchanging them for dead eyes and track marks.  The neighbourhood is a place where escape is rare, its dangers fitful and sudden, shadows dancing in the candlelight. And Ferrante tells it all bluntly.  In calm, unobtrusive prose we read a wedding night rape, a sixteen year old given over to a life of routine unhappiness. Vicious beatings. We perch in the corner of the room watching this young girl, Lila, crawling across the carpet on hands and knees, crumpled helplessly under the fists of a once gentle lover. A man turned into a beast by the need to be a man. As this man-beast, the real man, stalks over his wife, the girl, through swollen lips and blood-stained teeth, smiles at her silent, gaping toddler, ‘daddy and I are playing, we are having fun’.

But life is not only brutal, and neither are the four-pieces of this elaborate jigsaw. There are the brief glimpses of burning passion, the dazzling hopes invested by both women in a vain and shallow hearted man, hopes we always know can only end in betrayal. There is the mundane. Be it disappointing, unfulfilling sex in the form of Elena’s husband’s laborious, aching, orgasms. And sex, Lila can do without. Motherhood too is unsentimental in Ferrante, children can disappoint, they get in the way. When they don’t, and cue the title of the last installment, they can break your heart.

The soul of this tetralogy is a cast of neighbours, friends, acquaintances. An elaborate, intricately woven web of characters gradually eaten away by time. Fading from the picture, they lose their shapes, perhaps briefly returning as shadows of somebody we once knew, but only to fade finally into the dust, overwhelmed – or rather, in the final reckoning, underwhelmed by life.  Perhaps we find them dead, alone, in a shit and piss covered train car with a needle still in their arm. Or, simply, they might just clutch their chest, gasp in one final gulp of the neighbourhood, and then keel over.

This story is confronting, it is ambiguous, it escapes at the very point when you feel you may have captured it, it exceeds just as it reduces, and more than anything it embraces. It is about masculinity, feminism, vulnerability and strength. It is about freedom, In Ferrante’s world, life is a struggle to break free, to win the right to create oneself, a struggle which can never be completely successful. The neighbourhood, restricting social expectations, poverty, ignorance, violence, life is full of traps to escape.  In the end this novel is neither here nor there. It is reflective, and it is powerful because it feels like life, and it shows us just enough of ourselves, just a glimpse. And we should listen when Ferrante tells us that ‘unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity.’

50 Must-Read Books in Translation

Books in translation smallWhen we started the reading challenge two years ago, we planned to read, between us, a book from every country in the world. Books written originally in English didn’t take us very far, so we either read in other languages (French, Spanish, German) or looked for literature in translation.

Fortunately, translations into English are growing, so it is easier to find books by authors writing in other languages. The 50 books listed in this article on FlavorWire are a start. If you want to read about some of the books we’ve read for the challenge (not all in translation!), go to the reading challenge category on the left of the screen. And if you want to join us, please contact me by posting a comment to this article.

In the meantime, enjoy this list! How many have you already read?

50 Works of Fiction in Translation That Every English Speaker Should Read

 

Crow Country: A Meditation on Birds, Landscape and Nature—Mark Cocker

crow-countryThere is something primeval about crows and ravens, which is probably why they often get a bad rap in fiction. They are often portrayed as the harbingers of bad tidings and connected in some way to evil. And when we are not seeing them as some sort of malign influence, we ignore them—they are, after all, plentiful and not beautiful, unlike kingfishers or peacocks.

But there is a lot more to these birds, and using them as a projection of our fears does them a grave injustice. The corvid family—which includes crows, raven, rooks, magpies, jays and many others—are not only the most intelligent among birds but also among animals. They are self-aware, recognizing themselves in mirrors (which most animals can’t), and able to use tools. This intelligence is one of the reasons that I have been fascinated by them for a long time.

So it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. Mark Cocker is a nature writer who has been following roosting rooks near his home in Yare Valley, Norfolk. His obsession with rooks started almost casually. Lying in bed, half-awake in the early morning, he had got used to listening to their cries as they flew over his house, “the notes clattering on to the road and the rooftops of the village like flakes of tin”. Then one afternoon, at dusk in November he caught sight of a long silent procession of rooks and jackdaws flying to a roost in the valley. He decided to go looking for the roost, and was enthralled.

The book starts with him watching for the evening roost. The rooks and jackdaws arrive in huge numbers—there are often 20,000 birds or more in a flock—and settle noisily on the fields in a “vast, undifferentiated mass”. As the sun goes down and the light disappears from the sky, a hush falls upon the flock. There is not a sound. No one has been able to figure out why this happens, but it happens every sundown. Then a group of rooks heads for the trees. This is the signal the others have been waiting for. The sky is suddenly filled with the rooks and their cries, moving like “a gyroscope of tightly packed fish”.

The mass of birds also touches deep within Cocker. The swirls of birds in the sky are “like inkblot tests drawing images out of my unconscious. … the flock blossoms into an immense night flower”, stirring “something edgy into my senses”.

With this beautifully written scene, Cocker lays out all the elements of the book: the naturalist’s perspective on the behaviour of the birds; the sheer beauty and wonder of the spectacle; and the way it takes him back into himself, into an almost meditative state.

I’m not going to go into all the things I learned from this book but I will share one. The difference between rooks and crows: rooks are sociable creatures, moving in vast numbers and sharing everything, including sources of food. Crows are solitary and fiercely territorial creatures. So when you see a solitary crow, it’s a crow; more than two means they’re rooks.

This book is a journey that Cocker takes you on. He approaches the birds both as a naturalist and the effect they have on him. I was expecting something more straightforward, but thoroughly enjoyed this—the writing was beautiful (I have been reading his columns in the Guardian Weekly, so I was expecting that) and the indirect way he approached his subject, oddly enough, made it more interesting. All in all, a pleasure to read. I’ll end with a quote from Mark Cocker that sums it up:

“This book is all about that moment, about the ritual and the elements of the natural world—the light, the environment, the birds, myself—which create it.”