Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – A Review
Date of Publication – 17th October, 2000
Rating – 5/5
Published in the year 2000, Prodigal Summer, the fifth novel of Barbara Kingsolver is all about going back to nature and embracing the wilderness. Anyone who has a small space reserved in their hearts for the indelible beauty of nature cannot stop themselves from loving this novel. This is my debut into the beautiful world written by Kingsolver and I really enjoyed my short trip to the wild Appalachia painted in detail by the author’s love for anything living. The novel took me back to my days spent enjoying the safari in Tanzania, free from the norms of the civilized world and spending time attuned to the rhythm of nature. Kingsolver’s impeccable knowledge of the biological behavior of organisms added considerable value to her words and transformed the novel from a mere story that is fascinating to readers to a valuable message delivered heart to heart. Barbara Kingsolver has definitely appealed to my two great interests – thirst for reading and love for predators. I will definitely be reading more of her books to relive the emotional exuberance that I experienced while reading Prodigal Summer.
Prodigal Summer, set in rural Virginia, narrates the events that happen in the life of three central characters in the course of one summer. Each of the narrative has one central theme that can be identified through the title.
Predators – Narrates the life of Deanne Wolfe, a lone park ranger and biologist stationed in the wilderness of Zebulon Mountain ranges. Her solitary life attuned to the rhythms of nature is abruptly endangered when a young man named Eddie Bondo shows up uninvited into her territory and invades her most private spaces.
Moth Love – On a farm in the foothills of the Zebulon Mountain, Lusa Landowski, a city bred bugologist, finds herself in a predicament when her dream farm life is cut short due to the untimely death of her husband Cole Widener. Lusa, hugely unpopular with the Widener clan due to her upbringing and religious beliefs, soon finds herself at the helm of a huge farm inexperienced yet eager to learn.
Old Chestnuts – A few miles away from the Widener farm, Garnett Walker III is trying to revive the breed of American Chestnuts, which was once heavily used by his ancestors for lumber but sadly on the verge of extinction due to blight. This story is centered around his feud with his neighbor Nannie Rawley, a staunch supporter of organic farming and an atheist.
The novel is written in the form of three parallel narratives that run in alternating chapters but are tied together at the climax. Each story is centered on a species and provides wonderful insight into its habitat and way of living. Predators is focused on coyotes, a widely hunted animal species in America. Deanna, discovering a coyote family in the forest is determined to protect them against humans when Eddie Bondo, “the hater of coyotes” walks in. Their animal instincts kicks in and thus blossoms a summer full of love and passion that is acerbated by ideological differences related to conservation and hunting of wildlife. The relationship between the main characters is likened to the courtship of predators where the pair gingerly assesses each other and the male tries to win over the female. This story provides a lot of insight into the life of coyotes and other predators and stresses on the imbalance that can happen in the ecosystem even when a single organism is removed from the food chain. This narrative stands out due to the beautiful description of summer time in the forest where each being is in a frenzy to procreate.
Moth Love, narrated from the point of view of an entomologist, is about fighting for what you love and believe. This was my favorite narrative amongst the lot as I loved the realistic portrayal of Lusa, a city girl raised dreaming about farmlands but hesitates when the actual opportunity presents itself. The love of Lusa and her husband Cole is very much similar to moth love. Lusa feels the presence of Cole through his scent lingering in the house even after his death, very similar to a moth finding its mate without sight and sound. This is an emotional tale which narrates the loss of life, the ensuing confusion when the anchor of your life is dislodged and strewn about and is all about finding your place in the chaos of the world. This is exactly what Lusa does – finding her place in the hearts and lands of the Widener folk.
Old Chestnuts is a beautiful tale of two lonely old-timers, Garnett Walker and Nanie Rawley, who are the last chain in their generation. Although physically separated by hardly a few meters, the outlook of these neighbors is miles apart. Nanie Rawley, an unconventional woman and a staunch supporter of organic farming is a bizarre old woman in the eyes of Garnett. Yet, as circumstances bring them together, they are forced to see that they both are not that different from each other. Similar to the American Chestnuts in the Appalachia, Nannie Rawley and Garnett Walker are facing a possible extinction of their clan without any progeny to carry it forward. This story explores wide range of themes from loneliness to atheism and organic farming.
Barbara Kingsolver has written an excellent book that has a beautiful theme, magnificent characters and exceptional writing that is both emotionally appealing and exceedingly informative for a layman. Her brilliance shines through each and every line and has the power to transform any unbeliever to a loyal nature lover. However, the book which starts off with plenty of novel information regarding conservation and various species soon starts to focus extremely on the progress of the plot. I cannot say that it was undesirable but I was fascinated by the facts weaved into the plot and sorely missed their absence as the story progressed. Overall, an exceptional book that is socially relevant and can expose the present society to what it means to have a holistic living in peace with nature. A must read for all who love good fiction and has a soft spot for nature.
About the Author
Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955, and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. Kingsolver was named one the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. Critical acclaim for her books includes multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among many others. Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the nation’s largest prize for an unpublished first novel, which since 1998 has helped to establish the careers of more than a half dozen new literary voices. Through a recent agreement, the prize has now become the PEN / Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.
Coyote images – http://www.gpwmi.us/departments/psCoyote.html
Barbara Kingsolver – https://www.irishtimes.com
American Chestnut Tree – https://geneticliteracyproject.org
Luna Moth images – http://kids.nationalgeographic.com