An elegant narrative masterfully combining fine reporting and a moving personal journey.

MAGDALENA

RIVER OF DREAMS

The explorer, photographer, and prolific author returns to a country beloved since his boyhood to chronicle a river whose rehabilitation mirrors Colombia’s own.

Traveling to Colombia in the early 1970s from Canada, Davis—a professor of anthropology and former explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society whose book Into the Silence won the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize—regards the country as the place that first allowed him to “imagine and dream” and to give him “license to be free.” Davis’ popular book One River, published in a Spanish edition in 2002, was “a love letter to a nation by then scorned by the world,” still in the throes of the violence and corruption of drug cartels, which sadly marred the country’s reputation as a place of natural splendor. In his latest delightful journey, the author takes on the Magdalena, the so-called Mississippi of Colombia, which is celebrated for its legendary status as the life artery bringing food to the regions, exploration, trade, and commerce but also excoriated as a highway for the death and corruption that plagued the country for 50 years. Davis is a natural, engaging storyteller, and while he makes his way through Colombia’s history—from the early Tairona natives’ sophisticated civilization on the shores of the river, first contacted by the Spanish explorers in the early 16th century (and subsequently decimated), through the dark days of the drug wars of the 1980s and ’90s—the book is also an affecting account of on-the-ground exploration. The author skillfully weaves in accounts by academics, who have studied the vicissitudes of the river, and by the people who have lived and toiled along its shores. Many of these people have endured decades of political turmoil, beginning in 1946, when the Liberals and Conservatives “faced off in fratricidal conflict” known as La Violencia. This remarkable river has endured eras of massive extermination, erosion, damming, and pollution, but it has emerged renewed thanks to a people’s spirit and resilience.

An elegant narrative masterfully combining fine reporting and a moving personal journey.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-375-41099-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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