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The Snow Geese [Hardcover]

William Fiennes
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 Mar 2002

Snow geese spend their summers in the Canadian Arctic, on the tundra. Each autumn they migrate south, to Delaware, California and the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring they fly north again. William Fiennes decided to go with them and to write about his travels. What he produced turned out to be about very much more than geese. A blend of autobiography and reportage, its subject was also homecoming: the birds on their long journeys home, the grace of homecomings, the strange gravity that home exerts.

The arc of Fiennes' extraordinary physical adventure formed the backbone for meditations on philosophy, natural science and personal memoir. The book thrums with ideas, with stories and anecdotes, with humankind as well as wild fowl, with the funny and observant insights of an assured and highly entertaining writer. The joy of being alive, of being on the move and - above all - of returning home, is poignantly captured in this intelligent, exuberant book, a debut of great delicacy and distinction.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (22 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330375784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330375788
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 445,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Even without the unbridled enthusiasm of such writers as Peter Carey and Marina Warner that emblazon the jacket, a few pages of William Fiennes’ The Snow Geese would instantly alert the reader that this is something very special indeed. A remarkable piece of natural history and a striking book about the very notion of wandering, this is considerably more than travel writing; it is, in fact, a poetic vision that evokes the splendours and terrors of the Canadian Arctic in a fashion that goes beyond mere description. Perfectly judged prose gives a vision of the natural world that transports the reader utterly.

Snow geese spend each summer in the Canadian Arctic on the Tundra. Every autumn they migrate south to Delaware, California and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the spring they wing northwards again. Fascinated by this, William Fiennes made the decision to go with them and write about his travels. But the result turned out to be about so much more than the migration of geese. This synthesis of autobiography and reportage settles into its real subject swiftly: homecoming, and the powerful pull of the concept of home that motivates us all. The author’s daunting physical adventure is also a meditation on the philosophy of natural science and even the act of autobiography. The sheer energy of the book is mesmerising, and however subtle the writing, we read on transfixed--always relating these strange odysseys to our own travels in the world. The Snow Geese may change your very perception of what home means to you. --Barry Forshaw


... best writing... No one who reads it is likely to look at the world in the same way. -- TLS, April 2002

... quirky and autobiographical first book... capturing that sense of wonder... -- The Sunday Telegraph, March 24 2002

... superlative debut, delicate and profound and utterly readable. -- The Tablet, April 2002

A generosity of spirit... most attractive features... The playful interweaving... gives book its charm -- Independent A, April 2002

He is a writers' writer and his lyrical, poetic account of a journey... is a beautiful piece of prose that deserves to win awards. -- Roger Tagholm, Publishing News, 15 Feb 2002

Marvellous... entirely his own -- New Statesman, April 2002

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense, poetic, moving... 1 Mar 2004
By M. Harrison VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Moving, lyrical, absorbing - what would be a so-so journey for many travel writers becomes an extraordinarily beautiful quest in the hands of a writer whose imagination and precision with words are so utterly astonishing. For instance, comparing the blue light on snow to "a tone in the way the light was speaking" (can't remember the exact quote) just stops you in your tracks.
A fantastically inspiring book to read whilst commuting - real escapism, better than any "sex and shopping" dreck, this takes you out of your grimy tube carriage to the clean open spaces of the arctic tundra. Such a beautiful and moving book, I can't recommend it highly enough.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 17 April 2003
By A Customer
This book is a must for anyone who likes travel, natural history, biography or a read to make you think. Full of characters, places and philosophical readings that are cleverly crafted and are so vivid you feel as if you are transported across America and Canada, sharing the nostalgia/homesickness and the thrill of the flight of the birds. My empathy with the narrator is personal - I know how frustrating confinement by illness can be... to have the pleasure to spread your metaphorical wings and fly with the geese is freedom itself. This book cannot be underestimated in its power.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey of the soul 5 April 2003
The book is a journey, not just of following the snow geese as they migrate from Texas to the Arctic, but it's the author's journey too - from illness to well-being, from the childhood home to beautiful lands and then home again, from restlessness (his own Zugunruhe) to the sweet weariness of having completed a journey, from familiarity to marvellous strangeness and back to familiarity once more.
The author notices everything. You have a sense of him as almost silent, except for what he writes. He absorbs you with his descriptions of places and other people, delighting your soul with the accuracy of his observations.
It's a peaceful book, restorative, hopeful and uplifting. You give a sigh of satisfaction at the end of the book, glad for having experienced it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Snow Geese 19 April 2002
By A Customer
The Snow Geese is both an existential and metaphysical journey following the migration of these birds. William Fiennes maps the challenging landscape of our desire for signification against the determination of nature. A skilful mixture of science and nature, origins and destinations Fiennes creates a stunning and original book on both exile and empathy. This is an important book for anyone who loves birds, people, language, and landscape - or, has simply ever wondered where home is and how you get there.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly good writing 17 July 2010
By hiljean VINE VOICE
This is possibly one of the most lyrically written books I have ever read. It deals with the author's recovery from serious illness and (inspired by Paul Gallico's story) his journey from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Arctic to follow the snow geese on their migration. In the process Fiennes heals himself and develops the will to move on in his own life.

Fiennes is a superb writer - I have rarely read such wonderfully descriptive prose. For example this description of a rotund man met in a railway carriage: "He stood up and walked towards the end of the car, his rolling gait accentuated by the rocking motion of the train. A leather belt, like the ribbon round a gift plum pudding, encircled Marshall at his widest point - an equatorial band that marked out his northern and southern hemispheres." This is writing to savour and admire.

He is also excellent at reproducing conversations. The speech sounds utterly authentic, no easy task given the variety of people he encounters on his journey north.

One very minor criticism: the extremely detailed descriptions can become too much by the end giving you verbal indigestion. The book could have been cut by about 40 pages for the better.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb. A real new talent. 1 Oct 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
During a period of recovery, following surgery, Fiennes was reminded of an early fascination for birds, and particularly the Snow Goose. Illness having broken into his studies Fiennes looked for a new project and decided to follow the migrating snow geese, from Texas to the Artic.
This is an original but has an impact rather like Chatwin's 'In Patagonia'. Here you have the story of a fascinating and unusual journey. You learn a hell of a lot about birds of all kinds, about how they navigate, support each other and have developed over the ages. We meet some fascinating people, superbly described by the author. And this is an exciting quest. Will he finally make it to the summer breeding grounds in time?
Fiennes will be around for years to come. This is hugely enjoyable and commendably readable. I enjoyed every minute of it. Give yourself a real treat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost great 20 Jun 2012
By Dolphin TOP 500 REVIEWER
This book was left behind by a summer house-guest who could not be bothered to finish it and did not rate it enough to give it luggage room. Given this inauspicious introduction, I started reading it out of curiosity.

The author of this autobiographical account is recovering from a debilitating illness which derailed his young adulthood and left him physically weak and emotionally vulnerable. In this precarious mental state, he conceives the idea of celebrating his recovery with a solo journey inspired by Paul Gallico's book "The Snow Goose" which had a profound impact on his young mind. So Fiennes sets off to follow the migration of snow geese from their winter quarters in Southern Texas all the way to their summer breeding grounds near the Hudson Bay in Canada. The resulting book is part travelogue, part scientific treatise on the migratory habits of birds and of this particular species of snow goose, and also a personal insight into the wider question of "homesickness" in humans.

I am rather on the fence about it. I enjoyed parts of it immensely but found other parts overblown. There is no question in my mind that Fiennes can write beautifully; some of his turns of phrase are refreshingly novel and he is able to describe passing characters in delightful and insightful detail with just a few words. His descriptions of locations and of the snow geese en masse can be lyrically poetic and his spiritual journey has a certain pathos. I felt he dealt with what must have been a pretty fundamental psychological crisis with both restraint and a diffident common touch.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling but up to a point
This is a book that I liked reasonably well at the time of reading, but have no desire to revisit. It is a personal and heart-felt account of the author's fight to recover from a... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Kirwan
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing book
The book, sadly was not what I was expecting, I therefore found it very dull and did not really interest me.
Published 8 months ago by Ivor Cheney
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Book in great condition, cheap,arrived in good time and i will be passing it on after discussion at book club on saturday
Published 8 months ago by betty robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book that is so well writtern
This was a very interesting book writtern in a wonderful descriptive way. It leads you through the journey of the snow geese on their migration which makes you think about the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Vanessa
5.0 out of 5 stars The Snow Geese
A lovely book. A book that needs to be read at least once in your lifetime. Perceptive and touching,it stays with you long after reading.
Published 11 months ago by linda blakemore
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
A lyrical and beautifully written book.

Fiennes journey following the Snow Geese north is a beautiful and complex journey of discovery. Read more
Published 12 months ago by J. Harvey
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I found this book interesting as I have little knowledge of birds at this level but would not buy it again as found the descriptions of the birds too long and also felt the book... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Sharon
4.0 out of 5 stars A migration of the soul
An intensely personal odyssey, this is a delightful read, written with exceptional polish and insight, with regular flashes of brilliance in the choice of phrase or analogy. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Derwent
5.0 out of 5 stars The Snow Geese by William Fiennes
The Snow Geese by William Fiennes - A hypnotic, wonderfully descriptive journey/saga contemplating homesickness and nostalgia Second hand copy in a not too bad state.
Published on 4 Jun 2012 by S. Grantham
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I was disappointed that this book was less about geese and more about the journey the author made, and the people he met, some of which was a bit tedious. Read more
Published on 16 Nov 2011 by Pluto
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