Reviews for Orwell's roses

Publishers Weekly
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Solnit carefully charts the life of George Orwell (1903–1950) by focusing on his love of roses and all things natural in this brilliant survey (after Recollections of My Nonexistence). Her study of the “sublimely gifted essayist” and novelist is not a biography, she notes, rather “a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses.” After reading an essay in which Orwell expounds upon the power of trees, Solnit begins to see his writing differently, spotting more “enjoyment” in his work. She follows Orwell’s “episodic” life from his birth in northern India to coal mines in England, to Spain, and through his marriages, but begins with and returns often to his midlife in Wallington, England, where he rented a cottage in 1936 and planted his roses. She also traces her own interests that mirror his, such as climate, class, and politics—Orwell wrote “about toads and spring but also about principles and values and arguing with an orthodoxy.” A disquisition on the suffragists’ song “Bread and Roses” and a look at the rose trade in Bogotá happen along the way, but Solnit never loses sight of Orwell and his relationship to nature: “Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening,” he wrote. Fans of Marta MacDowell’s biographies of gardening writers will appreciate this lyrical exploration. (Oct.)


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

George Orwell’s essays helped light Solnit’s (Recollections of My Nonexistence, 2020) way as a narrative nonfiction writer of conscience and cued her to his little-recognized passion for trees and gardening. Her pilgrimage to Orwell’s cottage, where, in 1936, he planted fruit trees and roses, is one of many in a “series of forays” she chronicles and reflects on in this avidly researched, richly elucidating book of biographical revelations and evocative discoveries. Solnit delves into the natural history of the rose, its symbolism, and its current industrialized and cruelly exploitative cultivation. Noting how often Orwell’s novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four is cited for its invaluable insights into the grave dangers of disinformation and revisionist history, Solnit traces the evolution of Orwell’s astute perception of the consequences of economic and political tyranny. She also illuminates his prescient call-out of the planetary calamity of coal. As she tracks the ways imperialism has shaped horticulture, she dissects Stalin’s obsession with lemon trees and ruthless suppression of science, a painfully relevant theme during the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate-change crisis. Orwell will always be relied on for his astute understanding of the threat of totalitarianism and its malignant lies; Solnit also ensures that we’ll value Orwell's profound understanding of how love, pleasure, and awe for nature can be powerful forms of resistance.


Library Journal
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Can talking about George Orwell's passion for gardening yield a greater understanding of his literature and politics? If the author is blazingly brilliant author Solnit (Recollections of My Nonexistence), the answer is yes. Inspired by roses Orwell planted in 1936, Solnit draws on photographer Tina Modotti's roses, Stalin's obsession with growing lemons in frigid Russia, Orwell's slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica (with acid commentary from Jamaica Kincaid), and Colombia's brutal rose industry for a one-of-a-kind book.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A fresh perspective on the iconic writer. Perhaps the greatest political writer of modern times was also an avid gardener. It might seem contrived to build a biography around his passion, but this is Solnit—a winner of the Kirkus Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, among many other honors—so it succeeds. Certain that democratic socialism represented the only humane political system, Orwell lived among other like-minded leftists whose shortcomings infuriated him—especially (most being middle-class) their ignorance of poverty and (this being the 1930s and 1940s) their irrational attraction to a particularly nasty delusion in Stalin’s regime. “Much of the left of the first half of the twentieth century was akin to someone who has fallen in love, and whose beloved has become increasingly monstrous and controlling,” writes Solnit. “A stunning number of the leading artists and intellectuals of that era chose to stay with the monster—though unlike an abusive relationship, the victim was for the most part not these ardent lovers but the powerless people of the USSR and its satellites.” Unlike many idealists, Orwell never assumed that it was demeaning to enjoy yourself while remaining attuned to the suffering of others, and he made no secret of his love of gardening. Wherever he lived, he worked hard to plant a large garden with flowers as well as vegetables and fruit. Solnit emphasizes this side of his life with frequent detours into horticultural topics with political lessons. She also chronicles her visits to the source of most American flowers: massive greenhouse factories in South America, especially Colombia, which grows 80% of the roses sold in the U.S. The author grippingly describes Stalin’s grotesque plan to improve Soviet food production through wacky, quasi-Marxist genetics, and readers will be fascinated to learn about artists, writers, and photographers whose work mixes plants and social reform. A fine Orwell biography with equally fine diversions into his favorite leisure activity. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

George Orwell’s essays helped light Solnit’s (Recollections of My Nonexistence, 2020) way as a narrative nonfiction writer of conscience and cued her to his little-recognized passion for trees and gardening. Her pilgrimage to Orwell’s cottage, where, in 1936, he planted fruit trees and roses, is one of many in a “series of forays” she chronicles and reflects on in this avidly researched, richly elucidating book of biographical revelations and evocative discoveries. Solnit delves into the natural history of the rose, its symbolism, and its current industrialized and cruelly exploitative cultivation. Noting how often Orwell’s novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four is cited for its invaluable insights into the grave dangers of disinformation and revisionist history, Solnit traces the evolution of Orwell’s astute perception of the consequences of economic and political tyranny. She also illuminates his prescient call-out of the planetary calamity of coal. As she tracks the ways imperialism has shaped horticulture, she dissects Stalin’s obsession with lemon trees and ruthless suppression of science, a painfully relevant theme during the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate-change crisis. Orwell will always be relied on for his astute understanding of the threat of totalitarianism and its malignant lies; Solnit also ensures that we’ll value Orwell's profound understanding of how love, pleasure, and awe for nature can be powerful forms of resistance.

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