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4.1 out of 5 stars33
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VINE VOICEon 1 March 2004
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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on 17 April 2003
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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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2010
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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on 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 June 2012
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. However, I think that Fiennes is less than successful in weaving all those themes together into a cohesive narrative and got rather lost into some lengthy scientific dissertations which are interesting to a point but often leave you wondering what this is all leading up to. Also from a self-confessed animal lover's viewpoint, his observation of the geese is curiously detached and the frequent changes in narrative tone left me perplexed. The end seemed rather sudden and, although I got pleasantly lost in some of the travelogue aspects, it is not a book I would wish to read again very soon.
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on 19 April 2002
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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on 1 October 2002
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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on 29 October 2012
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. The story of bird migration, and of snow geese in particular, is merely the background to the author's journey to physical and mental recovery from serious illness. The author has the rare ability to give interest to even the most seemingly trivial personal encounters. I was sorry to reach the final page, though warmed by the harmony of the conclusion. Highly recommended.
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on 16 November 2011
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. There was some interesting discussion about why and how birds migrate, and also some very useful thoughts on the nature of homesickness. I was sad that the author did not seem to develop any emotional connection with the geese, to the point where - well you'll find out if you persevere to the final chapter.
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on 14 May 2002
William Fiennes has broken ranks with both travel writing and natural history. He has joined John Muir, Bruce Chatwyn and Gretel Erlich in the lyrical genre of the great outdoors, lifting natural history out of and away from the drab formality of science and taking off on his highly personal journey of self and total discovery.
Inspired by Paul Gallico's classic Fiennes went to Texas to see the contemporary hordes of corn-fattened snow geese in their winter feeding grounds. As the year turns he, like them, senses the pull of the tilting earth. He follows the geese and the emergence of spring right across North America to the Canadian arctic tundra where they will summer and breed.
Everywhere Fiennes looks he sees not just a vividly and poetically described landscape, but into the lives of the many friends and associates who help him on his way. Slowly and tantalisingly he releases himself into the narrative - he has been very ill; in convalescence he discovers another meaning of home; he blanches to see his geese shot by his Inuit hosts and even reluctantly agrees to eat them; he eventually becomes irresistibly homesick, not waiting to see the geese breed before returning to England.
The reader emerges from a breathless trans-continental journey greatly enriched in the natural history of snow geese, hugely uplifted by the quality of the prose and profoundly humanised by the many shared friends and experiences along the way. This is a book to read, read again, and then keep as a treasured possession.
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