Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Overstory, by Richard Powers.

           The 2019 Pulitzer Prize, America’s most prestigious literary award, has been deservedly given to Mr Powers for his towering and beautiful paean of praise for that which we take so much, to our peril, for granted:  the tree.
            Written as a novel, it still abounds with incontrovertible facts, especially as to what will happen to our earth when the human race has finally denuded our wonderful, nurturing planet of all the forests and their ecosystems: we will be breathless, airless – and non-existent, but still homo sapiens rushes to its destruction, for clearing trees means clearing land, means cities built, means crops farmed for increasing populations, means money, money, money, now our only God.
            Mr Powers introduces us to nine disparate characters who connect, sometimes intimately, to tell his wonderful story:  Nicholas Hoel, artist and sculptor;  Mimi Ma, Chinese-American engineer;  Vietnam veteran Douglas Pavlicek;  Dr. Patricia Westford, Botanist and Dendrologist;  Neelay Mehta, wheelchair-bound Silicone valley Gamer King;  Olivia Vandergriff, college student on the verge of attaining her degree in Actuarial Science;  Adam Appich, student psychologist;  and Ray and Dorothy Brinkman, a prosperous but unhappy childless couple.
            Not all these people will meet, though five of them link up in protest at the denuding of American redwood forests in the ‘90’s and join groups which are successful – initially – at stopping Redwood destruction in Northern California.  They are so delighted with small victories that they name themselves after their favourite trees:  Mulberry, Doug.Fir, Maple, MaidenHair, Watchman - and Maidenhair/Olivia and Nicholas/Watchman actually stop the felling of an enormous thousand year old wonder with its own name (Mimas) for nearly a year by camping on a platform in its upper branches – until the money men send in a helicopter to knock them out of the air while the cutting machines assemble at Mimas’s base.  The tree is doomed, and so is the protest.
            And further desperate, illegal protests end in tragedy and eventual betrayal, with one of their number tricked into confessing to a crime for which they all were guilty:  he receives not one, but TWO life sentences for domestic terrorism.  From eco-Warrior to domestic terrorist – so much for youthful idealism.  And did their efforts, puny as they seemed, make any difference to the fate of the most giving things on earth?  To trees, ‘our link between earth and sky'?  We must hope and pray so - to a deity other than the Money God.
Every person who cares about our planet should read this book.  SEVEN SERIOUS STARS!    

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