13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2012
The Mara Crossing is where the wildebeest reach the last stage of their migration from Kenya to Tanzania, the dangerous mass swim across the Mara river. This becomes a central image for this "major meditation on migration" (Jo Shapcott) . I can't think what to call the genre that houses this unusual mixture of prose - often poetic - and poems which often pluck words from biological texts:
... Protozoa, copepods
and krill, a ragtag army
preyed on by larger predators still -
the bioluminescence brigade:
lantern-fish glowing cold
three hundred species
of dense packed cephalopods;
following their own fixed upward gaze.
(from "Nocturne", alliteration and rhythm helping fit the words for their new home.)
At times the structure has similarities with a post-Wagnerian opera, rich arias and recitative, plotless (like Glass's "Satyagraha") but with compulsive leitmotifs. The prose passages are built on inductive logic rather than tightly argued syllogisms. They are the bright pickings that sparkle in a jackdaw's nest, the fruits of such extensive reading that one almost feels there should be a bibliography. The Haitian-born Audubon's first banding of birds in America throws the mist net of migration over birds and humans; and Lowenstein, another migrant, discovers as late as 1961 that living organisms contain the mineral magnetite in their bodies, allowing some to use Earth's magnetic field to guide their movements.
The overall theme is that "Home and migration belong together, two sides of the same ancient coin. Home is something we make, then things change, either in ourselves or in the world, we lose home and have to go elsewhere." This is the plotline of many stories and myths as well as of our home planet's biological and ecological history, from Ulysses to the forced exile of the Chagossians from their islands so that US bombers can flourish as an alien invasive species that easily pushes out the defenceless natives. That example is not in the book, but shows the power of migration to provide illustrative analogies for many human predicaments.
In one way this review is provisional. This book will reward re-readings, as a first one makes clear. Praise too for the fine cover and binding: physically it is a pleasure to carry and read, ideally when on a journey.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2012
I can't put this down. Ruth Padel writes what starts as a personal journal, looking out onto her beloved garden and observing the birds. She then takes you on an extraordinary journey as if you were migrating with the birds, explaining in detail the reasons, biological, practical and genetic, for their behaviour; all in accessible fascinating language. It does not end there - she considers the very nature of animal migration (including human) and how this has determined the world in which we live. Ruth Padel is a renowned poet, a master, and the added joy of this book is in the poems which are interwoven with the prose. A group of poems follows on from the text in such a way that you have an additional understanding of the poems, which refer to what she has so lucidly described about migration.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2012
I had to restrain myself from reading too much in one go, so I could digest each chapter and make the experience last longer. It is indeed a flowing, fact filled meditation on so many aspects of migration from cells to insects, birds, marine and land animals, as well as people. One tiny example I hadn't known, is of the daily vertical migration of jellyfish from the deep ocean to the surface. It spans ancient to contemporary history including stark tales of today's immigration issues and the treatment of those seeking a 'better life'. It describes the many reasons for migration as well as the means. How Ruth Padel does this in such concise yet eloquent language makes it a masterpiece. Her knowledge of biology, and the different examples she uses could fill a dissertation. I learned so much and my imagination took flight. I found her prose as lyrical as her poetry. Each chapter ends with several poems on the theme of that chapter. Her final poem 'Time to Fly' is a moving summary of the drive to migrate. I have now bought several copies to give as gifts.