Penguin Books, 2020.
$18, 320 pages. Available here.
WHEN THE INTRODUCTION has more content and brilliance than most books, you know you are in for a treat in the remaining pages. The founder of Freeman’s and executive editor of Literary Hub wants to break us out of waiting and into the collective action that is our only real hope to slow climate change.
Freeman has gathered a daisy chain of essays, stories, and poems by thirty-five writers from the middle of the Pacific to the Roof of the World and every hot, cold, wet, and dry spot in between. He also acknowledges that even this breadth of geography may not be enough to capture the vastness of the matter. Each part of the collection underlines the real physical consequences of the extractive economy that has led us to this climatic crisis and the vast range of human emotion that makes climate change much more than a scientific concept. “We are swimming in facts,” Freeman writes in his introduction, “but a fact does not fully obtain the depth of a fact, the power of a fact, until it becomes part of a story.”
This first essay strikes a melancholy, yet hopeful, note—just like the frozen home of its author Andri Snær Magnason. He describes how his grandparents mapped Vatnajökull, the glacier that he now sees receding, and ponders the wonders that will be revealed when the glaciers are gone—the nameless hills and valleys now covered with snow and ice. “But of course, I hope that what I see as destruction will eventually become something our descendants can love and cherish,” Magnason writes.
In Mariana Enriquez’s essay, the Riachuelo River is an analog for many rivers so poisoned by industry, agriculture, and everyday living that they have all but ceased to sustain life and may never sustain life again. And in a story repeated around the globe and from age to age, the poor are not only most impacted, but are also blamed for the tragedy.
A dissipated young woman and a prophetic terrier center Lauren Groff’s story “Dusk” about wasted life and wasteful life in Florida, and the lengths a person will go for redemption. It provokes the question—which path are you taking?
Diego Enrique Osorno takes us to Tarahumara, Mexico, where the Rarámuri are known for amazing feats of distance running. The people who have lived in these places for generation after generation cannot come to terms with the disruption in their cycle of planting, growing, and harvesting. As if the insult of climate change is not enough, our misguided tourism may be the final nail. The Rarámuri response will be to say nothing and retreat, because “the more you have the worse off you are,” but what happens when there is nowhere to retreat?
This collection may be best savored, contemplated, and reread as a prayer and as a call to action: think about what he’s saying but also enjoy the way he’s saying it. “What if we believed, stupidly or hopefully, that every living life mattered equally?” Freeman writes. Read it. Share it. Let it change the way you relate to our only home. O
Heather Marx is a full-time transportation professional and part-time book reviewer for Orion. She reads and considers books from her home in Seattle, Washington.