A contemplation on the life of one of the 20th century's greatest essayists, journalists, and truth-tellers by one of the 21st century's greatest? I'm in! I dropped everything on my TBR with plans to fly through it in a weekend, but quickly slowed down because this is an adroit, scholarly collection that deserves to be savored with deliberative reflection. Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A lush exploration of roses, pleasure, and politics, and a fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener whose political writing was grounded in his passion for the natural world.
"In the year 1936 a writer planted roses." So begins Rebecca Solnit's new book, a reflection on George Orwell's passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.
Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the surviving roses he planted in 1936, Solnit's account of this understudied aspect of Orwell's life explores his writing and his actions--from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left), to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism. Through Solnit's celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers encounter the photographer Tina Modotti's roses and her Stalinism, Stalin's obsession with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell's slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid's critique of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes her portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as a reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.
What a book! It is a privilege for the rest of us to listen in as our finest contemporary essayist engages in deep conversation across time with perhaps the greatest essayist in the history of the language. This volume is humane, challenging — and a reminder that we all must, and can, make a life on this beautiful planet, even as we work to improve it. Bill McKibben
"Solnit shows that Orwell's politics were grounded in a vision of the good life that he conducted with gusto through some of the worst decades of the twentieth century. This was partly his nature and partly his political project; along with his famous lessons about the misuse of political language and power, he wanted people to understand that the life of a democratic socialist could and should include joy, as an already existing example of what might happen if we made a better world. A beautiful and important book." Kim Stanley Robinson
"A kaleidoscopic view of a man we thought we knew, by a woman who keeps surprising us with her dazzling mind. Solnit has written an exquisitely layered book soaring in its reach, subversive in its scope, and joyous in its pleasure to read. Her exploration into how and why cultivating beauty matters, alongside fighting injustices as Orwell's garden supported his fierce critique of fascism, reminds us of the singular fact: life is both flower and thorn. This profound and graceful book not only redefines what is 'Orwellian,' it reimagines how we might live a life of greater intention by opening our hearts to what is beautiful, brave, and of Earth." Terry Tempest Williams
"[An] avidly researched, richly elucidating book of biographical revelations and evocative discoveries . . . Orwell will always be relied on for his astute understanding of the threat of totalitarianism and its malignant lies; Solnit also ensures that we'll value Orwell's profound understanding of how love, pleasure, and awe for nature can be powerful forms of resistance." Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books, including Recollections of My Nonexistence, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, The Faraway Nearby, A Paradise Built in Hell, River of Shadows, and Wanderlust. She is also the author of Men Explain Things to Me and many essays on feminism, activism and social change, hope, and the climate crisis. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a regular contributor to The Guardian and other publications.