Hopping across the pond

Ripening seed head of an opium poppy

A June reads round-up. Just three books this month, spanning the 1900s to the present day – in the UK, Central and North America. Rarely for me, more fiction than non-fiction although American Dirt felt very real as I was reading, and disturbingly so.

Small Eden by Jane Davis

If you like UK-based historical fiction, this is definitely a novel to add to your wish list.

It had me at the words ‘pleasure garden’! Jane has clearly done a lot of research and I loved the way the characters and their lives were set against the backdrop of the opium trade and an ever-expanding London. It reminded me of The Woodcock by Richard Smyth, another novel which portrayed class, love and loss in the early 1900s.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the garden and would have loved to hear more about the plants loved and grown in that era. The Neptune fountain and the parakeets were so vividly portrayed and it was clever to make them representative of the wider narrative. The way the characters evolved – some blossoming, whilst others faded – really drew me in and each night I read later than I wanted to, just to see what would happen.

Unlost by Gail Muller (via my Adventurous Ink subscription)

Gail gave her whole self to the Appalachian Trail and then lays bare her experiences on the page for us all to see. Her description of chronic and invisible illnesses at the start were not only great scene setters but also something I could really relate to.

I wanted to like it more than I did. Perhaps because I wanted more nature writing in there and instead heard a lot about Buckshot, although I recognise why he was an important part of the story. Gail left me wanting to know what happened next. Was she still a changed person when she got home? How did she feel about things once she got space from the trail?

The mark of a good book is one that sits with me for a while. It has been rumbling around my head and has left me feeling slightly more determined to push through my own health issues and find a way to get fit. I really admire Gail’s determination and what she had to mentally overcome to walk as far as she did.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I didn’t previously know much about the migrants who travel from South and Central America into North America.

It’s such a well-written book. The tension sat with me throughout and is the only reason I downgraded to four stars as it was almost too much for me to bear. The hardship was always intertwined with hope. I became invested in the journey, and in each character, willing them to succeed.

Seeing the route they took through different eyes, and particularly the contrast of the mother vs her child, worked extremely well although I did think the eight-year-old thought and behaved like a much older child. It beggars belief the risks that have to be taken to find safety and it was heartbreaking as well as educational.

Since writing this review I have read about the controversy around the book, with many people saying it is a racist book about Mexico written by a white lady. I didn’t see that but then I am a white lady living in the UK with little or no knowledge of the subject. I will endeavour to seek out some alternative writers on the subject, to balance my views. This week’s terrible news about the migrants who have lost their lives by over heating in the back of a truck in Texas was absolutely dreadful.

Our world is so different to the one Jane writes about in Small Eden. Women’s rights and the expectation of women has certainly improved although the abortion news in the US is scary and takes us backwards again. In other areas it also feels like we are going backwards – on climate change, the war in Ukraine, UK politics, the way we treat migrants with 50 dying in the back of a lorry in Texas. It’s hard to take it all in.

So, I’ll go back to my books and back to nature when I need a break. Outside in my garden the rain has been falling and the air is still, like it’s taken a deep breath and is just holding it for a while. It’s 6.21 am and the birds have been up for hours. We have a robin with a white tail feather which comes to sit on the BBQ and catch flies every day. It’s pleasing to know it’s the same one every day. As a child we became fond of a blackbird we called beaky, because half of his top beak was missing.

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