Intriguing and moving, though disappointingly incomplete.

THE ZOO ON THE ROAD TO NABLUS

A STORY OF SURVIVAL FROM THE WEST BANK

British journalist Thomas debuts with a fraught portrait of the Municipal Zoo of Qalqilya, the last surviving zoo in Palestine.

Visionary veterinarian Sami Khader is the eccentric focal point of the narrative. From September 2005 to May 2007 (the period covered here), Khader repeatedly risked death by shooting to break curfew and feed animals on the verge of starvation in a war-torn zoo approximately 40 miles from Jerusalem. But the animals inevitably began to perish: Four zebras died during a tear-gas attack, an ostrich expired from shrapnel and a beloved giraffe struck his head when startled by machine-gun fire. (Khader eventually became a taxidermist in the hopes of at least preserving these casualties of war.) Thomas balances the sadness of the animals’ suffering with tales of the small improvements and minor triumphs of the zoo staff in their quest to become recognized as a National Zoo. A scant description of the complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be found in the first few pages, but the author gives only vague descriptions of political conflict and war in the remainder of the text, even when events affect main characters. She misses a tremendous opportunity to provide an accessible lens through which to view the bloody and complicated history of the West Bank. Thomas also never manages to completely embrace what should be one of her book’s most important themes: the irony of a fascination with the animal kingdom that has led human beings to capture and contain animals for centuries, and the horrible price paid by these particular animals for that fascination.

Intriguing and moving, though disappointingly incomplete.

Pub Date: April 28, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58648-489-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

A FIRE STORY

A new life and book arise from the ashes of a devastating California wildfire.

These days, it seems the fires will never end. They wreaked destruction over central California in the latter months of 2018, dominating headlines for weeks, barely a year after Fies (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, 2009) lost nearly everything to the fires that raged through Northern California. The result is a vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever. “A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash,” writes the author about his first return to survey the damage. The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary—particularly a nihilistic, two-page centerpiece of a psychological solar system in which “the fire is our black hole,” and “some veer too near and are drawn into despair, depression, divorce, even suicide,” while “others are gravitationally flung entirely out of our solar system to other cities or states, and never seen again.” Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape. Interspersed with the author’s own account are those from others, many retirees, some suffering from physical or mental afflictions. Each is rendered in a couple pages of text except one from a fellow cartoonist, who draws his own. The project began with an online comic when Fies did the only thing he could as his life was reduced to ash and rubble. More than 3 million readers saw it; this expanded version will hopefully extend its reach.

Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3585-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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