H Is for Hawk (MacDonald)

H Is for Hawk 
Helen MacDonald, 2014
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780802123411

Winner, 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize
Winner, 2014 Costa Book of the Year and Biography Award

When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk.

But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer's eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Chertsey, Surrey, England, UK
Education—B.A., M. Phil., Cambridge University
Awards—Costa Award (Best Book and Biography); Samuel Johnson Award
Currently—lives in The Fens (Cambridgeshire), England

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. She also worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge.

She is the author of a cultural history of falcons, titled Falcon, and three collections of poetry. As a professional falconer, she assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. Her memoir H Is for Hawk was published in 2014. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Helen Macdonald's beautiful and nearly feral first book…is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it. It draws blood, in ways that seem curative…H Is for Hawk seems to me a small, instant classic of nature writing, expansive in ways that recall Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), and as in touch with cruelty. It has, as well, some of the winding emotional reverb of Cheryl Strayed's Wild (2012). Yet this book is very English. Ms. Macdonald's sentences, like David Bowie's teeth (pre-veneers), are appealingly crooked. Nearly every paragraph is strange, injected with unexpected meaning.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

If birds are made of air, as the nature writer Sy Montgomery says, then writing a great bird book is a little like dusting for the fingerprints of a ghost. It calls for poetry and science, conjuring and evidence. In her breathtaking new book, H Is for Hawk…Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor's fierce essence—and her own—with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don't notice their astonishing engineering…Although "animal as emotional healer" is a familiar motif, Macdonald's journey clears its own path—messy, muddy and raw.
Vicki Constantine Croke - New York Times Book Reviews

To categorize this work as merely memoir, nature writing or spiritual writing would understate [Macdonald’s] achievement...her prose glows and burns.
Karin Altenberg - Wall Street Journal

[Macdonald’s] writing—about soil and weather, myth and history, pain and its slow easing—retains the qualities of [her hawk] Mabel's wild heart, and the commanding scope and piercing accuracy of her hawk's eye.
Joanna Scutts - Newsday (Long Island)

An elegantly written amalgam of nature writing, personal memoir, literary portrait and an examination of bereavement.... It illuminates unexpected things in unexpected ways.
Guy Gavriel Kay - Washington Post

Assured, honest and raw...a soaring wonder of a book.
Daneet Steffens - Boston Globe

One of a kind...Macdonald is a poet, her language rich and taut.... As she descends into a wild, nearly mad connection with her hawk, her words keep powerful track.... [She] brings her observer's eye and poet's voice to the universal experience of sorrow and loss.
Barbara Brotman - Chicago Tribune

[A] singular book that combines memoir and landscape, history and falconry...it is not like anything I've ever read.... what Macdonald tells us so eloquently in her fine memoir [is] that transformation of our docile or resigned lives can be had if we only look up into the world.
Susan Straight - Los Angeles Times

What [Macdonald] has achieved is a very rare thing in literature—a completely realistic account of a human relationship with animal consciousness.... Her training of Mabel has the suspense and tension of the here and now. You are gripped by the slightest movement, by the turn of every feather. It is a soaring performance and Mabel is the star.
John Carey - Sunday Times (UK)

A dazzling piece of work: deeply affecting, utterly fascinating and blazing with love...a deeply human work shot through, like cloth of gold, with intelligence and compassion—an exemplar of the mysterious alchemy by which suffering can be transmuted into beauty. I will be surprised if a better book than H is for Hawk is published this year.
Melissa Harrison - Financial Times (UK)

More than any other writer I know, including her beloved [T.H.] White, Macdonald is able to summon the mental world of a bird of prey...she extends the boundaries of nature writing. As a naturalist she has somehow acquired her bird's laser-like visual acuity. As a writer she combines a lexicographer's pleasure in words as carefully curated objects with an inventive passion for new words or for ways of releasing fresh effects from the old stoc.... Macdonald looks set to revive the genre.
Mark Cocker - Guardian (UK)

A talon-sharp memoir that will thrill and chill you to the bone.... Macdonald has just the right blend of the scientist and the poet, of observing on the one hand and feeling on the other.
Craig Brown - Daily Mail (UK)

A well-wrought book, one part memoir, one part gorgeous evocation of the natural world and one part literary meditation...lit with flashes of grace, a grace that sweeps down to the reader to hold her wrist tight with beautiful, terrible claws. The discovery of the season.
Erica Wagner - Economist (UK)

"Had there been an award for the best new book that defies every genre, I imagine it would have won that too.... Coherent, complete, and riveting, perhaps the finest nonfiction I read in the past year.
Kathryn Schulz - New Yorker

Captivating and beautifully written, it’s a meditation on the bond between beasts and humans and the pain and beauty of being alive (Book of the Week).

One of the loveliest things you’ll read this year.... You’ll never see a bird overhead the same way again.
Jason Sheeler -  Entertainment Weekly

In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing...Macdonald describes in beautiful, thoughtful prose how she comes to terms with death in new and startling ways.
Publishers Weekly

In this profoundly inquiring and wholly enrapturing memoir, Macdonald exquisitely and unforgettably entwines misery and astonishment, elegy and natural history, human and hawk. —Donna Seamen

(Starred review.) An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.... Writing with breathless urgency...Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment. Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it's poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.
Kirkus Reviews

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