I honestly didn’t want to read a book about Orwell. But never doubt Rebecca Solnit: clearly written, incisive, insightful and gifted at bringing all kinds of unexpected connections to bear on a subject. Her aim is to tease out how Orwell’s lifelong interest in plants and gardening inform a more complete understanding of him as a writer and thinker while exploring the role of pleasure in art and politics.
[T]he least political art may give us something that lets us plunge into politics, that human beings need reinforcement and refuge, that pleasure does not necessarily seduce us from the tasks at hand but can fortify us. The pleasure that is beauty, the beauty that is meaning, order, calm. Orwell found this refuge in natural and domestic spaces, and he repaired to them often and emerged from them often to go to war on lies, delusions, cruelties and follies…
I finished Orwell’s Roses and would have enjoyed immediately turning back to page one and reading the book again if it hadn’t planted and nourished half a dozen other appetites to be pursued elsewhere.
- Penguin (2021), 321 pages
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Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography “An exhilarating romp through Orwell’s life and times and also through the life and times of roses.” —Margaret Atwood “A captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s “Nobody who reads it will ever think of Nineteen Eighty-Four in quite the same way.” —Vogue A lush exploration of politics, roses, and pleasure, and a fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener whose political writing was grounded by his passion for the natural world “In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” So be-gins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and on the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the roses he reportedly planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this overlooked aspect of Orwell’s life journeys through his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left) to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism. Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers are drawn onward from Orwell‘s own work as a writer and gardener to encounter photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her politics, agriculture and illusion in the USSR of his time with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s examination of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes Solnit’s portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as offering a meditation on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance. (Publisher’s Description)
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