Thursday, October 27, 2016

H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald

In 2007, Helen Macdonald was a lecturer at her alma mater, Cambridge University.  Her family was plunged into grief when her father, a photojournalist, died unexpectedly with an unexpected heart attack.  H Is For Hawk is Macdonald's memoir about the year following this death and her journey through grief.

Macdonald was a falconer and had been fascinated by rapture birds since her childhood.  She knew the history and had read all the famous books on the subject.  Her first thought after the tragedy was to get a goshawk and train it, to plunge into the natural world when the everyday world was too painful to handle.

The goshawk came.  Macdonald named it Mabel.  The reader is taken into the world of falconry and the training of a wild bird to glove and to hunt.  Macdonald bonded entirely with the bird.  She obsessed over every move Mabel made, everything she ate and what Mabel might be feeling.  She spent hours working with Mabel, shutting out people she had known.  As she worked, she spent time thinking about the work of T.H. White when he attempted to also train a goshawk and his book documenting his methods.  She thought about White's early life and how his painful childhood reflected in his training.  She grieved with him when he lost his bird.

As time went by, Helen was able to start relating to people again.  She took Mabel out in public to parks and wild acreage and talked with those lucky enough to see the bird, explaining what was going on.  She worked through her grief and finally started to see the beauty of the world again.

H Is For Hawk was an immediate bestseller and has won multiple prizes.  It was a New York Times Review 10 Best Books Of The Year and on the prize lists of such publications as Kirkus Reviews, Time, NPR, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Library Journal.  Readers will be fascinated with the details they learn about falconry as well as sympathetic with Macdonald's grief.  This book is recommended for science and memoir readers.

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