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Among Flowersby Jamaica Kincaid
Synopses & Reviews
Well known as a writer of "passion and conviction" (New York Times), bestselling author Jamaica Kincaid offers her many readers a new and dramatic travel memoir of her journey into the Himalaya.
Among Flowers begins with Kincaid's laborious preparations for the trek, with a small group of botanists intent on collecting "beautiful plants native to the Himalaya that will grow happily in Vermont or somewhere like that." While the group does not expect an easy journey, little do they know the adventures that await them. As they alight from the plane in the Annapurna Valley, they are met by Maoist guerrillas in camouflage fatigues — an occurrence that is repeated with alarming regularity during the course of the three-week trip. The group sets off into the mountains with Sherpas and bearers, crossing spectacular landscapes, Nepalese villages, and herds of yaks. In cool and elegant prose, Kincaid intertwines the harrowing Maoist encounters with botanical discoveries, fascinating daily details of the trip, and lyrical musings on gardens, nature, home, and family.
"This account of a walk I took while gathering the seeds of flowering plants in the foothills of the Himalayas has its origins in my love of the garden¨my love of feeling isolated, of imagining myself all alone in the world and everything unfamiliar, or the familiar being strange, my love of being afraid but at the same time not letting my fear stand in the way." So begins Jamaica Kincaid's adventure into the mountains of Nepal with a small group of botanists. After laborious training and preparation, the group leaves Kathmandu by small plane, into the Annapurna Valley to begin their trek. ("From inside the plane it always seemed to me as if we were about to collide with these sharp green peaks, I especially thought this would be true when I saw one of the pilots reading the newspaper, but Dan said that at the other times he'd flown in this part of the world the pilots always read the newspaper and it did not seem to affect the flight in a bad way.") The temperature was 96 degrees F. on arrival, and the little airport in Tumlingtar was awash in Maoists in camouflage fatigues. "What I was about to do, what I had in mind to do, what I planned for over a year to do, was still a mystery to me. I was on the edge of it though." The group sets off with a large retinue of sherpas and bearers, and Kincaid, in simple, richly detailed prose describes the landscape, the Nepalese villages, the passing trekkers and yak herds. Direct and opinionated ("We decided to call them [other trekkers] the Germans because we didn't like them from the look of them¨and Germans seem to be the one group of people left that cannot be liked because you feel like it."), Kincaid moves easily between closely observed, down-to-earth descriptions of the trek and larger musings, about gardens, nature, seed gathering, home, and family. Negotiations with the Maoists to pass through villages interject dramatic notes ("Dan and I became Canadians. Until then I would never have dreamt of calling myself anything other than American. But the Maoists had told Sunam [head sherpa] that President Powell had just been to Kathmandu and denounced them as terrorists and that had made them very angry with President Powell."). The group presses on, determined in its search for "beautiful plants native to the Himalayas but will grow happily in Vermont or somewhere like that." Eventually they reach a spectacular pass at 15,600 feet and start back. Down at the village of Donge they have another run-in with the Maoists. They "lectured us all through the afternoon into the setting sun, mentioning again the indignity of being called mere terrorists by President Powell of the United States." To lessen the tension, the sherpas produces some Chang, an alcohol made from millet, intoxicating everyone, Kincaid included. At the airport, the Maoists are threatening attack, but the group must wait three days for an airplane. Finally they get off safely. "Days later, in Kathmandu, we heard that the very airport where we had camped for days had been attacked by Maoists and some people had been killed." In Kathmandu another Maoist attack closes the city down. "As we waited to leave this place, I remembered the carpet of gentians¨and the isolated but thick patches of Delphinium abloom in the melting snow. There were the forests of rhododendrons, specimens thirty feet high¨I remembered all that I had seen but I especially remembered all that I had felt. I remembered my fears. I remembered how practically every step was fraught with memories of my past, and the immediate one of my son Harold all alone in Vermont, and my love for it and my fear of losing it."
Combining beautiful introspective prose with closely observed, down-to-earth description, Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya is a rich and entertaining travel memoir from one of the most distinctive and striking voices writing today.
"Novelist Kincaid tells of her journey into the foothills of the Himalayas in search of rare plants to bring home to her Vermont garden. Much of the book feels repetitive, in an almost meditative way, as the author uses plain yet lyrical language to record the quotidian details of life in the wilderness. For Kincaid, everything on this trip — eating, sleeping, bathing — requires more effort than usual and sometimes even instills anxiety. Kincaid's details of meals and sleepless nights do grow tedious, and it isn't clear if the author is glad she decided to accompany her botanist friends on their trek, considering the constant threat of leeches and, much worse, the not unlikely (as she portrays it) possibility of losing her life at the hands of anti-American Maoist guerrillas ('Nothing could be more disturbing than sleeping in a village under the control of people who may or may not let you live'). Kincaid's fear never abates: 'At some point I stopped making a distinction between the Maoists and the leeches.' Occasionally, however, she is overcome with the beauty of the night sky, pilgrim destinations such as a sacred lake in Topke Gola, or the abundant flora, particularly 'rhododendrons that were not shrubs, but trees thirty feet tall.' This book is as much about a place as it is about overcoming fears and embracing the unfamiliar. Photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Kincaid describes the natural beauty she encounters with such fine detail and immediacy that you feel you are there, too, watching a waterfall, for example, or listening to its roar. And the people the group encounters are fascinating..." Orlando Sentinel
"Kincaid looks for flowers that will survive in Vermont, and she filters the variegated atmosphere of beautiful, dangerous Nepal through her fine-tuned imagination." Miami Herald
In this delightful hybrid of a book—part memoir and part travel journal—the bestselling author takes us deep into the mountains of Nepal with a trio of botanist friends in search of native Himalayan plants that will grow in her Vermont garden. Alighting from a plane in the dramatic Annapurna Valley, the ominous signs of Nepal's Maoist guerrillas are all around—an alarming presence that accompanies the travelers throughout their trek. Undaunted, the group sets off into the mountains with Sherpas and bearers, entering an exotic world of spectacular landscapes, vertiginous slopes, isolated villages, herds of yaks, and giant rhododendron, thirty feet tall. The landscape and flora and so much else of what Kincaid finds in the Himalaya—including fruit bats, colorful Buddhist prayer flags, and the hated leeches that plague much of the trip—are new to her, and she approaches it all with an acute sense of wonder and a deft eye for detail. In beautiful, introspective prose, Kincaid intertwines the harrowing Maoist encounters with exciting botanical discoveries, fascinating daily details, and lyrical musings on gardens, nature, home, and family.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
After laborious training and preparation, Kincaid and a group of botanists trek the Himalayas. Along the way she moves easily between closely observed, down-to-earth descriptions of the trek and larger musings about gardens, nature, seed gathering, home, and family.
About the Author
Jamaica Kincaid is the author of numerous award-winning works, including the memoirs My Brother and The Autobiography of My Mother and the novel Annie John. A contributor to The New Yorker, she recently appeared in The Sophisticated Traveler in the New York Times, and her travelogue, Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya, will be published in 2005, along with her new novel, My Favorite Tool.
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