San Francisco social activist and National Book Critics Circle Award–winner Solnit (River of Shadows; A Paradise Built in Hell) fashions an elegant study in empathy through these meandering reflections on subjects as diverse as her mother’s descent into dementia, Che Guevara, and Solnit’s own “magical rescue” to Iceland for some months as resident at the Library of Water museum. Storytelling is Solnit’s way of perceiving the suffering of others, she writes, and her first essays explore the decidedly mixed feelings she harbored toward her difficult mother as she grew more and more forgetful, revealing the dreaded symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The author struggled to honor the “unremembered past” she shared with her often critical, resentful mother. From the rotting apricots gathered from her mother’s yard, Solnit made jam, an act of stalling their inevitable decay—a startlingly moving metaphor for vanitas. Ice is another preserver/destroyer, and Solnit segues nimbly into her explorations in Iceland by way of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which begins and ends on ice, with the polar explorer’s narrative. Throughout, Solnit subtly touches on subject ranging from Guevara’s contact with leprosy patients as he traveled around Latin America in the 1950s to the reach of Buddhism to Icelandic history, to her own health crisis—and all in her enormously fluid style. Agent: Bonnie Nadell, Hill Nadell Literary Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013 Release date: 06/13/2013 Genre: Nonfiction
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