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The Overstory: A Novel Kindle Edition
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Winner of the William Dean Howells Medal
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Over One Year on the New York Times Bestseller List
A New York Times Notable Book and a Washington Post, Time, Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
"The best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period." —Ann Patchett
The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
― Barack Obama
"The best book I’ve read in 10 years. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, and the moment it speaks to is climate change. So, for me, it’s a lodestone. It’s a mind-opening fiction, and it connects us all in a very positive way to the things that we have to do if we want to regain our planet."
― Emma Thompson
"An ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them."
― citation from the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
"This book is beyond special.… It’s a kind of breakthrough in the ways we think about and understand the world around us, at a moment when that is desperately needed."
― Bill McKibben
"A towering achievement by a major writer."
― Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland
"Monumental… The Overstory accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. Using the tools of the story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.… A gigantic fable of genuine truths."
― Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
"The best novels change the way you see. Richard Powers’s The Overstory does this. Haunting."
― Geraldine Brooks
"This ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.… Remarkable."
― Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"The best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period."
― Ann Patchett
"Should be mandatory reading the world over."
― Emilia Clarke --This text refers to the paperback edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B073VX7HT4
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 3, 2018)
- Publication date : April 3, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 5847 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 502 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,799 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Reviewed in the United States on September 2, 2019
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Before we bought our current family home, we visited. With most of the furniture moved out and life hidden from view, the rooms were staged for a buyer.
All except the young boy with autism, who could not be subdued during our tour of the home for sale. He sat on the couch and jumped up to pace, groans for words, his hands thrown against his stomach in uncomfortable, unpredictable bursts. His mother, long in patience and able to see what most could not, interpreted his enthusiasm for us and for our young children.
His mother saw what we could not, knew everything was fine.
In her son’s honor and in his name, a young tree had been planted years prior in the backyard of the house that we wanted to buy, because the boy’s parents understood. They saw. They did not fail to notice.
Yes, we bought the home and our children played for hours in that backyard. We did not see the boy’s tree, just as we didn’t see the boy.
The author of this book has caused me to see that tree, and others, much differently.
Other trees including the ones no longer there. The author screams his warning to see their disappearance, page aftrr page.
Our children chose instead to live in the wild little forest growing on the edge of our property line, beneath the boy's tree. Here, they buried their childhood.
Deceptively dense on a postage stamp of swamp, this little forest was rife with potato vines, knee-high undergrowth and thin trunks that bent in the wind to shake off little white flowers. It sheltered courage within the walls of a young boy’s fort; it sprouted imagination in a backlot to short films on a young girl's handheld camera. Those leaves and vines covered hope and shame and anger and joy and love and peace.
Then, just as our children all entered their teens, our little town outgrew itself. Progress sent machines to tear down our forest and build a mandatory retention pond.
Every vine, every stump, every little white flower was erased from the yard and forever from the planet, so that our neighbors could use more water and so that the water would have some place to go other than out onto our dirt roads. Against our will, the machines tore away everything but the autistic boy’s tree. Quietly, this had grown tall, with a trunk too wide to hug.
Today, that tree is the lone survivor of our backyard forest. This beautiful, magnificent tower of memory tells the stories of my three kids’ childhood.
I just finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. I read it because I love trees (not just the one in my backyard), and because I want to read good writing. This book offers both.
Powers tells the stories of 9 characters whose lives all profoundly intersect with trees. And what do all stories do, one of those characters asks in the book? “[Good stories] kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t” (page 412).
Is that why I read? To become something I wasn’t? To grow? Or to put it another way, to die just a little? Is it death?
The author wants us to think about the environment like we’ve not thought about it before. He doesn’t serve up a green brochure or a scientific journal article disguised as a flimsy four-part play. He introduces us to people and pulls them together in ways that surprise and distress and move and frighten his reader. After all, propaganda about the destruction of trees would not make us think differently. We would just see what we think we see without understanding, without knowing.
“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind,” says one of the characters in this book. “The only thing that can do that is a good story.”
He got me thinking anyway. Powers ends his novel on the second to last page with a reminder that “the word ‘tree’ and the word ‘truth’ come from the same root” (page 500).
Because of his story, I see trees with new eyes. But Powers begs his readers to do more than just listen and nod. He storytells his heart out and, in return, begs me to die a little.
The trunk of the novel takes shape when one of the nine, Olivia Vandergriff, a fresh dropout from some unnamed northern college, who has already died by electrocution, been revived- reborn so to speak- is visited suddenly by "presences" which lead her in a vaguely southwestern direction to another of Powers' nine; and to her destiny. The artist, Nick Hoel, comes from a long line of American Chestnut tree photographers, Iowa farmers really, Brooklyn, New York transplants. He has carried through on a multi-generational project: photographing the sole surviving family Chestnut from the same position every month for over seventy years. It becomes a sort of flip book peek into natural history through the dilatory filter of persistent life. When the two meet it ignites the slow burn of the author's motif.
And just what is that motif? It's about seeing, really observing, the natural world beyond the blinkered focus on our fellow human beings. Powers' has said "there is a natural predisposition, I think, in the affordance of the brain to be blind to things that don't look like us, but that's the miracle of awareness and... of human intelligence." But mostly this book is about finding a larger purpose in our lives, about recognizing the big picture by (ironically enough) seeing the trees in the forest. How the simplicity of a tree's life can teach us how to live.
When, during a nocturnal attempt to destroy a forest-clearing building site, a group of eco-terrorists lose one of their own to an infernal accident, they plot their escape and their future. "Say nothing, no matter what. Time is with us." says one. Then we are treated to a short treatise on the nature of time and it's as if the surrounding trees themselves are speaking, warning them:
"But people have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died."
In The Overstory, Powers' correlation of his characters with the arboreal is constant. We are all connected, he seems to be saying, through this collective system of roots which proliferate across the earth. We sustain and support each other with protection and innate caring or we destroy each other through viral hate and greed. But regardless we are all one. This is a big, big tale. It pans from the microscopic out to the satellite view of our world. By the end we are left with the inevitable; nothing and everything. We read this, as one is left to ponder the future:
"He stares off into the north woods, where the next project beckons. Branches, combing the sun, laughing at gravity, still unfolding. Something moves at the base of the motionless trunks. Nothing. Now everything. This, a voice whispers, from very nearby. This. What we have been given. What we must earn. This will never end."
It's with that profound sense of eternity that Powers leaves us. Ineluctably, life goes on whether our frail attempt at righteous change is successful or not. We evolve regardless of our petty endeavors for wealth and pleasure. If we care enough to survive as a sentient species, we must reap the gift, we must accept it.
As one of the nine comes to realize at the twilight of her life, "The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story". And that is exactly what Richard Powers has told.
Top reviews from other countries
The book follows nine individuals as they develop awareness of the importance of the green beings. Five of the characters get together and their life connects at some point. The journey of rest was followed separately in the book. The character Neelay, a computer game coder, seemed reduntant but his relationship portrayed with his father was beautiful. I felt that the characters should have had more of a connection together. The story, for me felt a bit disconnected as I had expected the characters to come together and give the plot direction. The prose though made up for the lack of flow for me. Maybe, the author wanted to keep it that way to show that individual human life doesn’t have a deeper meaning in the grander scheme of this world, that in the end it’s not the trees that need saving, it’s the human race.
I'm all for the symmetry of Euclidian geometry but I asked my myopic Mother if she'd stop cutting the lawn. An utterly static statue laughed at me. But ya know what- I'll keep asking her too.
Each day I ask, they keep asking back: 'but why?'
And I tell 'em as it is.
It's because Douggie made me cry.
Powers lad- as we say in Cork: 'yer no egg, but you're some yolk'. Keep at it Brother.