Book Review: Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss)

Someone here at my blog in a comment suggested this book by Margaret Renkl (a name I knew from the editorial pages of The New York Times) and it was just a lovely collection of short essays that thread the natural world to her family history. Thank you, Patricia, for the recommendation.

While each essay (some less than a page long, some two or three pages) could easily stand on its own as a piece of marvelous writing, the entire Late Migrations (A Natural History of Love and Loss) is best viewed from above, as she masterly weaves and threads her observations of the deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee) into the lore and stories of her own family’s roots in the same areas in the rural South.

I kept stopping and thinking, how did she do that? I heard echoes of Annie Dillard and others, for sure, but her voice is her own, and her observations of the birds and trees and roots and forests are full of insights of the world outside our doors. (It connects nicely to my last book ready, Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald, too.)

Reading this is a master class in the structuring of stories, and some of the sentences in this collection were so beautiful, so rich with imagery and insight, that I found myself reading them a few times just to let her words linger in my head (and inspire poems, which I will share another day).

A bonus is that her brother did the illustrations, and each one is an evocative work of art, tied to the writing and stories of Renkl, pulling visuals into the essay collection with perfect balance. The cover, for example, also could easily stand on its own, and the fact that it is her own brother just gives the artwork a little more magical power, I think.

Peace (outside in the world),

  1. Thank you for the review, Kevin. I’ve been reading your poems inspired by this book and by Vesper Flights. This sounds like a book I would really like. Thank you.

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