Thoughts from Linda:
It is ALL about our climate. In truth, we are all ‘unsheltered.’
Our general theme for the bookshelf is ‘something old & something new’ but the urgency of the moment in our collective history calls for a larger ‘frame’ on this one.
As we in the US enter an October with some of the worst outbreaks of heat and fires in our history and have witnessed two hurricanes hitting our Gulf Coast States in the same week along with only the 2nd time in recorded history we have had 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic at the same time, the climate news is rather dramatically calling out to us to pay attention.
The loss of life from these tragedies along with the COVID numbers of deaths in the US now surpassing the 200,000 mark make it even more obvious that we are all connected…for better and for worse on our planet.
And finally, for October, we are profiling a book of fiction, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Unsheltered.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
All of our previously reviewed books have been non-fiction, but as we move into the fall, and it can be a great treat to sit down by the fire and lose yourself in a good book of fiction, this one is a great choice. And, it relates directly to our theme of ‘climate crisis.’
After reading her book, The Poisonwood Bible, I became a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver, an American novelist, essayist and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the Congo in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels.
In this book, she deals with the theme of being ‘unsheltered’ in different ways, and in different eras, both intellectually as well as from a practical, economic standpoint. The book has two stories that connect with a place—a home in a real place, called Vineland, New Jersey. One story is from the 1870’s and the other is from our time today, set in 2016.
The 1870 story is fascinating as it weaves in evolution as an unacceptable scientific concept in the Vineland community along with the lives of two compelling characters who are simply ahead of their time. The chapters intersect as you move from one era to the other, with the subtleties and nuances of paradigms and beliefs so well-conceived and told in this very compelling story.
As one reviewer from The Washington Post noted, “…this is the first major novel to tackle the Trump era straight on and place it in the larger chronicle of existential threats…Kingsolver suggests it’s never easy to find oneself unsheltered, cast out from the comforts of old beliefs about how the world works…We’ve adapted before. With a little creative thinking and courage, we might do so again.” (Ron Charles, reviewer for the Post)
The modern-day story is told through the voice of Willa Knox, a writer herself, who along with her family has seemingly done ‘everything right’ in life, and yet, with certain turns of fate, finds herself and her family in dire straits. As always, her characters are rich in context and offer remarkable insights into the human condition. She has a daughter and son and it is her daughter, Antigone, or ‘Tig’ for short, who commands the pages in the concluding chapters of the book as she and her mother, Willa, discuss some of the big issues of their lives and futures.
Tig is in the process of gaining custody of her brother’s child and looking for a place to raise Dusty (the baby) with her boyfriend. Tig might be called a ‘radical’ by some, but as the conversation illustrates, she is actually far ahead on the intellectual/ thought curve and has a real handle on our current state of being ‘unsheltered,’ as these lines show…
“No place is perfect (Tig says) so don’t be so touchy.”
“Well, it’s been kind of a week, Tig. (voice of Willa) I just found out our house is slated for demolition.”
“Mom. The permafrost is melting. Millions of acres of it.”
Willa tried to see a connection. “And I’m just worried about my house. That’s your point?”
Tig shook her head. “It’s so, so scary. It’s going to be fire and rain, Mom. Storms we can’t deal with, so many people homeless. Not just homeless but placeless. Cities go underwater and then what? You can’t shelter in place anymore when there isn’t a place.”
Willa tucked her hands between her knees and declined to believe these things.
“The Middle East and North Africa are almost out of water. Asia’s underwater. Syria is dystopian, Somalia, Bangladesh, dystopian. Everybody’s getting weather that never happened before. Melting permafrost means we’ve got like, a minute to turn this mess around, or else it’s going to stop us…”
If you are not already acquainted with Barbara Kingsolver, this book is a great place to begin the relationship. I guarantee it will not be the only one of her works that you read.
All three of these voices: Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis, and Tig from Unsheltered speak according to the dictates of Martin Luther King when he said in his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1968: “…whenever injustice is around…it is up to each of us to tell it…”