Thursday, January 10, 2019

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver --- 464 pages including Acknowledgements.

Kingsolver's novel involves parallel stories of two families living in in the same place: the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey. One family is beset by the instabilities of the present day, and the other beleaguered by the equally tumultuous upheavals of the late 19th century. Interestingly, some reviewers think it is the historical sequence that saves the book from becoming more political polemic than story, and some reviewers argue just the opposite.

Myself I will confess that I most enjoyed the historical parts, built upon the solid foundation of a real person: Mary Treat, a self-taught naturalist who earned a living for herself writing articles for both the scholarly and popular presses, and corresponded with men like Asa Grey at Harvard and Charles Darwin in England. As a woman of course, she was only able to do this by defying convention and living in self-imposed isolation from all the societal expectations that hobbled respectable females. 

As the Washington Post reviewer concludes: 

"Traveling side by side, 140 years apart, these alternating stories . . .  maintain their distinctive tones but echo one another in curious, provocative ways. Kingsolver suggests that it’s never been easy to find oneself unsheltered, cast out from the comforts of old beliefs about how the world works. If there’s any spark of optimism in this grim prognosis for our survival, it’s implied by the novel’s parallel structure: We’ve adapted before. With a little creative thinking and courage, we might do so again."

Click HERE for the review from the Washington Post.

Click HERE for the review from the New York Times.

Click HERE for the review from NPR.

Click HERE for the review from Kirkus Reviews.

Click HERE to read the Wikipedia entry for Mary Treat.

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