This book was a Pulitzer winner and a Booker Prize finalist. I read it about a year ago and just loved it. So when the Booker Prize group choose it for the August read I was so delighted I offered to lead the discussion. Here’s my review from 2018. (on this site).
At that time I rated it aa 9.6 which is as about as high as I’ll go any more for a non-classic work of fiction which I’ve read only one time. This time my rating is a bit lower, maybe due to first-reading enthusiasm on the first go-round.
by Richard Powers
2018/ 502 pages
read by Suzanne Toren – 22h 58m
rating: 9.6 / contemp fiction
(read and listened)
It’s the characters which drive the book. There are nine of them, each district due to the way Powers introduced them or their role in the action. Wikipedia did a fine job of listing them without spoilers. Some have immigrant background, some are handicapped, some talented in a particular way or have some other interesting or identifying feature.
In my first reading (6/18) my favorite character was Neelay Mehta because of his techie interests and my second favorite was Patricia Westerford for her intelligence and devotion. These two switched places of favorite on the second reading – lol.
In the first section. “Roots,” each of the characters is introduced individually with his own back story. They each even have their own tree as indicated by a sprig of leaves. The second section is called “Trunk” where the characters connect in their different twisting and interwoven ways and together (mostly) create a definite plot line, sturdy, complex and fascinating. This is the longest “Part” of the book. Part 3 is called “Crown” and includes a kind of brief climax to the tale being told in “Trunk” plus the immediate aftermath which has most of the characters splitting up with the events they became involved in shadowing their lives. Finally, Part 4 is much shorter and called “Seeds” which winds things up by showing what lives on after the plot of the book finishes up. The structure is beautiful.
The timely themes are a huge part of what made this book so popular and such a success. Powers is dealing with the complexities of nature and specifically the loss of the earth’s forests. And the strength of the book lies in bringing those to the fore. But there are also themes of connectedness, interdependency and freedom. The literary value here does not come from the language or the insights into human nature but rather it develops from the complexity and interdependence of nature.
It’s a brilliant book even if the astonishing Milkman by Anna Burns actually won the Man-Booker prize and got a 10 from me on the second reading.