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addabook - Prodigal Summer
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Prodigal Summer
A Novel
Barbara Kingsolver
read on August 22, 2018

Kingsolver is always fantastic. I really enjoyed this book, it is solid fiction; fun to read, engaging, with great characters. The story ducks and weaves around a half-dozen or so key characters in small-town Appalachia, which all begin independent and of course get very connected by the end. The events within the story obliquely and sometimes explicitly revolve around a life-and-death theme, reminding you that one is always necessary for the other.

I'll admit that it was not particularly masterful or ambitious. This was Kingsolver's followup book after The Poisenwood Bible, and this feels like a safe layup compared to that book. I question what events/themes/lessons would stick with me over time, but not every book needs to be life-changing, particularly fiction. This was fun to read and generally made me happy. I suppose that's enough.

Kingsolver herself commented on her reasons for writing the book, which were:

Specifically, I wished I could explain a handful of important ecological principles: speciation and natural selection, the keystone predator, genetic diversity and resilience, and the Volterra principle, which (for instance) shows mathematically why spraying a field with pesticides actually will increase the number of pests in the next generation.  These principles profoundly shape the world around us, in which we hope to survive.

Scientific illiteracy is something that worries me every day.  At least half the population of this country has not been educated to understand basic, thoroughly documented phenomena like climate change, or even to grasp evolution through natural selection, which has now been the cornerstone of all biological sciences for two centuries.  When a population this uninformed tries to steer environmental policy, it’s like asking a five-year-old to drive the car: we might fully expect calamity.

This certainly makes me appreciate it a bit more, though I suppose I'm happy to say that such a focus was overlooked by me as "this book is describing how the world works" and not "huh, this is a new and interesting point of view!".

Author Bio:

Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955, and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. At various times in her adult life she has lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands, and has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America. She spent two decades in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to southwestern Virginia where she currently resides. Her books, in order of publication, are: The Bean Trees (1988), Homeland (1989), Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike (1989), Animal Dreams (1990), Another America (1992), Pigs in Heaven (1993), High Tide in Tucson (1995), The Poisonwood Bible (1998), Prodigal Summer (2000), Small Wonder (2002), Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands, with photographer Annie Griffiths Belt (2002), Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007), and The Lacuna (2009). She served as editor for Best American Short Stories 2001. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages, and have been adopted into the core literature curriculum in high schools and colleges throughout the nation. She has contributed to more than fifty literary anthologies, and her reviews and articles have appeared in most major U.S. newspapers and magazines. Click here to view complete bibliography. Kingsolver was named one the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. Critical acclaim for her books includes multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among many others. The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the national book award of South Africa, before being named an Oprah Book Club selection. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won numerous prizes including the James Beard award. The Lacuna won Britain's prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010. In 2011, Kingsolver was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work. Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the nation's largest prize for an unpublished first novel, which since 1998 has helped to establish the careers of more than a half dozen new literary voices. Through a recent agreement, the prize has now become the PEN / Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.