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July 2016: Biography Memoir > H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald - 4 stars

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message 1: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 699 comments H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is a lot of things. I listened to the audio read by the author (she did a very good job). This book is first of all about birds, raptors and falconry. Its also a memoir of the author's period of grief after her father died. It also is a look into the life of T.H. White who wrote a book about his goshawk. Much like the author, I've always had an interest in falconry. I wanted to own a falcon but I never was as focused and determined as the author so I've not every gone after my dream as she has. One could say she was obsessed with falconry as a child. This book is shelved in the 500s (598.944) and it gives the reader a great deal of information about hawks, raptors, falconry and training. It has also been tagged as autobiography, biography and memoir. The author's father died unexpectedly. It is the story of her grief which she tells through the training of her hawk. I do think people find things like training hawks to help them get through grief. It reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking though they are very different but both books gives a picture of going through grief. Finally, I really learned a lot about T. H. White. Maybe more than I care to know. White wrote The Goshawk. White had an unhappy childhood, was an unhappy young man and a unhappy school teacher. He failed miserably in training his Goshawk. The author rereads his book during this time of grief and training her own Goshawk. She reflects on Merlin and his living backwards, his past was always before him.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6671 comments You definitely liked this one more than I did, but I never was interested in Falconry, so clearly I had one strike against me. Interestingly, it also reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking which I also didn't love. Surprising since so many people do love it. I think on some level I'm just not that interested in grief or recovery from grief . . .I tend to view death as very much part of the life cycle, so as long as it happens in the normal order and generally normal time frame, I don't feel it is so terribly devastating. Now when someone loses a child, I feel differently . . .so maybe a book about that kind of grief would speak to me more.


message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Nice review and synthesis of its multifarious elements. I appreciate your mentioning how you learned more about White than you wanted. It was uncomfortable reading about a tormented closeted gay and his sadomasochism. But all that was eye opening on how he sublimated his anguish into a fascination with medieval culture and the writing of mythic transformative tales. In the long run I wished Macdonald would have come down to earth more often with more human humility and humor. The bit about the hawk getting into a man's pheasant nursery was like an oasis. The refined and often lyrical prose eventually felt too etherial and I longed for more dialog and human interaction.


message 4: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 699 comments I do like books about grief and death but I also see them as a part of life. I experienced grief really for the first time when my father died so on some level I was interested in the author's writing about her grief. I did feel it was a little beyond normal grief but I also appreciated the healing process. Healing really isn't the right word. You don't heal from grief, you go through it as part of loss and change. She used training the hawk to go through the grief. Others might choose quilting or reading but we find a way through those valleys.

Michael, thanks for the comments. I did react to the pheasant nursery too. I wasn't sure why but your point is good.


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