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The Sunday Salon: The Snow Geese (review)

It was a rainy day today, and I spent it holed up indoors, making spaghetti sauce and reading.  My book was completely riveting, and I zipped through it in just a few sittings.  So I'd like to share my review with all of you.  I'll be back next week with a September and Third Quarter wrap-up!


The Snow Geese
William Fiennes
243 pages

Drifts of specks appeared above the horizon ring. Each speck became a goose. Flocks were converging on the pond from every compass point, a diaspora in reverse, snow geese flying in loose Vs and Ws and long skeins that wavered like seaweed strands, each bird intent on the roost at the centre of the horizon's circumference. ... Sometimes whole flocks circled over the roost, thousands of geese swirling round and round, as if the pond were the mouth of a drain and these geese the whirlpool turning above it. (p. 27)

This was William Fiennes' first glimpse of snow geese, in Texas, as they began their spring migration to the Canadian tundra. While recovering from a serious health issue, Fiennes read a classic story from his childhood, Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose. This sparked an interest in birds, and a strong desire to see snow geese first-hand. He decided to travel from his native England to Texas, and follow the geese the full length of their spring migration. Although he expected to keep pace with the geese, sometimes he arrived at his next stage well ahead of the birds, who would stop traveling if weather conditions were less than ideal. For Fiennes, the journey was spiritual as well as physical. As the geese flew by the thousands to their northern breeding ground, Fiennes was on a path to emotional recovery, repairing a soul shaken by his illness. He found both solace and insight in those he met along the way. These included Eleanor, a Texas widow; Jean, a former tennis-playing nun; a man named David and his father-in-law, nicknamed "The Viking"; and a woman named Ruth whose generosity provided Fiennes with the renewal he needed to complete his journey.

Fiennes' prose is marvelous, especially when describing the natural world. As he moved from gulf coast to prairie to tundra, each stage was markedly different from the one before. Fiennes became expert at identifying different types of birds. His memoir digresses into passages about why birds migrate, and the paths taken by different species. I'm a bird geek, so I liked these segments. And as his trip progressed, Fiennes also explored concepts of nostalgia and homesickness. He particularly struggled when stuck in a remote outpost in advance of the geese, with everything around him completely unfamiliar. And yet, while being away increased his love for the house where he grew up, he also developed a deeper understanding of its importance, and how this understanding could help him to move forward with his life:
I had to turn my nostalgia inside-out, so that my love for the house, for the sense of belonging I experienced there, instilled not a constant desire to go back but a desire to find that sense of belonging, that security and happiness, in some other place, with some other person, or in some other mode of being. The yearning had to be forward-looking. You had to be homesick for somewhere you had not yet seen, nostalgic for things that had not yet happened. (p. 204)

This was a beautiful, moving book. Highly recommended. ( )

If you'd like to read more about this book, dovegreyreader wrote an excellent review and was lucky enough to interview the author!

Join The Sunday Salon here.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
The Snow Geese
I'm glad you enjoyed it! I am adding your review to mine here (http://page247.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/the-snow-geese-by-william-fiennes/).
Sep. 28th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
Re: The Snow Geese
Thanks! I enjoyed your review as well.
Sep. 28th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC)
Oh no! another book for my tbr-pile!
Sep. 28th, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I loved this one. Have you read his latest, The Music Room? That is certainly one of the best that I have read this year.

Sep. 28th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
I haven't read The Music Room yet, although dovegreyreader shared your view of its excellence. Will have to check it out!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )