Books by Gretel Ehrlich

BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 12, 2013

"An eloquent attempt to grasp the Japanese experience of the 'The Wave,' which was 'center and fringe at once, a totality, both destructive and beautiful.'"
Lyrical, meandering dispatches and eyewitness accounts from the devastation of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Read full book review >
THE FUTURE OF ICE by Gretel Ehrlich
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 9, 2004

"Ehrlich urges us 'to be driven into action by the wild beauty and difficulty of a place,' action to defend and action as the act of living."
Praise-singing alarum depicting cold environments as under attack by greed-fed malfeasance. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"Singular, impressionistic sketches of an otherworld. (maps, illustrations)"
In a tone that's fittingly remote and beguiling, Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart, 1994, etc.) relates stories of her visits to Greenland over the past seven years. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 1, 1997

A brief but valuable narrative of travel by essayist Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart, 1994, etc.), exploring the sacred and the profane in contemporary China. Ehrlich's search for an authentic Chinese culture and spirituality at first leads only to frustration. She climbs Emeishan, a mountain sacred in both Buddhist and Taoist traditions, only to find it overrun by crass commercialism. The few monks who operate a guesthouse for pilgrims don't impress Ehrlich as being very devout; instead, they are obsessed with TV. When she reaches the peak, she finds partially constructed ``Las Vegasstyle'' hotels and aggressive, ravenous monkeys who steal food and jewelry from tourists. Ehrlich suggests that much of this shambles can be traced back to Mao's Cultural Revolution, which irrevocably destroyed many of the remaining elements of an ancient culture. The second half of the book offers a slightly more optimistic view. Ehrlich travels to Lijiang, a remote city in the mountains near Tibet, and discovers a stubborn, persistent strain of ancient Chinese culture. She meets an aged musician who was imprisoned for 20 years by Mao and kept his sanity while in isolation by singing Taoist melodies to himself. Now free, his commitment to preserving elements of Chinese culture has led to the formation of a small orchestra, which has revived ancient musical traditions. In the book's last pages, Ehrlich travels with the orchestra to London on their first international trip, bringing the music of a lost culture to the West. The book is a fine travelogue but would have been more compelling if the author had provided a bit more on her own spiritual journey. In all, though, a worthy read. (3 b&w illustrations, not seen) (Quality Paperback Book Club selection; regional author tour) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: June 6, 1994

An odyssey of recovery by a woman literally struck by lightning. In the summer of 1991, Ehrlich (Islands, The Universe, Home, 1991, etc.) was hit by lightning while out walking with her dogs on the land around her Wyoming ranch. Ehrlich has not written another near-death testimonial but a peripatetic probe into the nature of the healing of the human heart. Suffering from ventricular fibrillation (chaotic heartbeat) and a ``fried'' sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for stimulating the heart muscle and raising blood pressure), Ehrlich is rescued from bumbling, ineffectual treatment in Wyoming that might have killed her and delivered into the hands of a heart specialist/healer named Blaine in Santa Barbara, Calif. The drama of her shaky recovery is more gripping than the final two-thirds of the book, which meanders from musings about various cultural readings of lightning, the heart, and death to thoughts about the healing power of water over lightning and fire as Ehrlich treks to London, then zigzags back and forth between California and Wyoming, then on to Alaska before finally coming to rest off the Santa Barbara coast after a symbolic dive into the ocean. At times the prose is a pedestrian record of events: retrieving her favorite dog or following cardiologist Blaine on his rounds. At other times, Ehrlich strains to give her experience more depth and insight by interspersing the mundane with, say, Ecuadoran myths about the connection between being struck by lightning and becoming a shaman. Ehrlich may want these myths to be ``enlightening,'' but she is at her best when she writes from her own feelings: ``Lightning had entered me twice and now I was a burnt shell with nothing in me that could attract fire.'' An emotionally compelling, if erratically beating, tale about the transformative power of a brush with death by lightning. Read full book review >
ISLANDS, THE UNIVERSE, HOME by Gretel Ehrlich
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

The power and mystery of untamed nature in the Wyoming wilderness is the focus of an evocative but sometimes abstruse new collection of essays by Ehrlich (Heart Mountain, 1988; The Solace of Open Spaces, 1985). A transplanted Californian, Ehrlich chronicles life on her Wyoming ranch—training horses, doctoring calves, and irrigating fields—as she seeks emotional lessons in the daily unfolding of nature's wisdom. Exploring such themes as home and isolation, birth and death, and order and chaos, she returns repeatedly to the concept of paradox. Spring brings not only rebirth but death as a sudden thaw floods fields, killing new calves. Summer means fecundity but also destructive fires, which are themselves paradoxical—the black ash left in their wake is the richest of fertilizers; the fires are not the end of a life cycle but perhaps the beginning. ``How fragile death is, how easily it opens back into life,'' writes the author. At her best, in observations like these, Ehrlich combines a naturalist's eye with a philosopher's meditations—an ability that soars in a description of her trip to visit sacred sites in Japan. Occasionally, however, she abandons the rigors of structure and analysis for murkier musings—for example, in a desultory tour of her sprawling acres: ``I search for the possible in the impossible. Nothing. Then I try for the opposite, but the yellow leaves in trees—shaped like mouths—just laugh.'' Still, a lyrical, loving appreciation of landscape and life. Read full book review >