Home - in the heart, in the head, a physical space that shifts and moves with emotions, a locale, a dream, a site of conflict and cruelty and also intimacy and safety, homelands, exile - all this and more are explored in this tender and moving book which makes you wonder what home really is or ever was. --Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist
This is a book that opens the heart. Tender, thought-provoking, compassionate, and insightful, it leads us on a circular journey from understanding what we need and mean by home ,through experiences of homelessness and forced displacement, to a true coming home to the self and the divine. --Marian McNaughton, chair of trustees, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
Home - the longing for it, the loss of it, the need for it - is one of the defining images in a modern world of travel, globalisation and uncertainty. In exploring the many meanings and interpretations of the word, Jennifer Kavanagh has produced a memorable and important book. --Caroline Moorehead, author of Human Cargo
This book drew me in. It's like a wonderful soup: lots of finely, delicately chopped nutritious ingredients, each retaining their own tang and individuality, yet creating a whole that draws you on to take another mouthful - and another. I marvelled at how, again and again, Jennifer takes us with so few and deft words into someone's life and story. --Douglas Board, chair of trustees, Refugee Council
Homeward bound for the new year I wouldn't normally be drawn to books about finding yourself but Jennifer Kavanagh's The O of Home is touching and inspiring in a way that brings to mind Thoreau's Walden
When I was a publisher at Faber, I used to negotiate contracts with all kinds of literary agents - good and bad, large and small... One of the most civilised and sympathetic was Jennifer Kavanagh...
I never did much business with Jennifer and wasn't surprised to hear in the 1990s that she had sold up, turned her back on the book world and taken to the road, embarking on a year or more of nomadic wandering. A familiar tale, you might think, of someone setting out to find herself in middle age by taking a year off. The dream of leaving is a powerful one, and a surprisingly large number of people turn to it. What's unusual about Jennifer's story is its resolution.
To cut a long story short, Jennifer Kavanagh has just published The O of Home with O Books...In this inspirational memoir, Kavanagh describes how, through joining the Quakers, she has discovered that:
"Home is not just four walls or the country we were born in. It is not a locked door, an investment, a legal address, or a nation with rigid borders. Home is where the heart is: a yearning for a precious past, a dream of something that has never been, or a present reality. Home is in relationship ... The qualities of home are reflected in the circle (O), an ancient symbol for safety, equality, inclusiveness and eternity. But we will never be at home unless we are at home to ourselves."
Some people will read this and think "new-age claptrap", but they would be wrong. The O of Home, which reached me just before the turn of the year, is a remarkably honest, unpretentious, clear-eyed account of a courageous woman getting rid of her worldly goods, and a lot of emotional baggage, and finding a new and exhilarating freedom. There are chapters about old age, death, displacement and homelessness: the whole is knitted together by the author's voyage of self-discovery. In the process of telling her story, Kavanagh also describes the lives of people she has encountered on her wanderings.
This, I cannot stress too strongly, isn't my usual kind of reading, but I was touched by it, and as I began to think about its message - a timely one for the season of good resolutions and fresh starts - my thoughts turned to its antecedents. Kavanagh is writing in the tradition that starts with that American classic Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
The inspiration for Thoreau was much more political and contemporary, and was more fully a protest against aspects of the evolving American republic, but the Quaker side of Kavanagh's book touches Thoreau's ideas at several illuminating points...
It's a nice reminder that inspiration, like comment, is free - and can be liberating.
Happy new year. --Robert McCrum, Guardian blog