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The Overstory: A Novel Hardcover – April 3, 2018
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- citation from the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
“Autumn makes me think of leaves, which makes me think of trees, which makes me think of The Overstory, the best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period.”
- Ann Patchett
“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 (cover review)
“Remarkable....This ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.”
- Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A big, ambitious epic....Powers juggles the personal dramas of his far-flung cast with vigor and clarity. The human elements of the book―the arcs his characters follow over the decades from crusading passion to muddled regret and a sense of failure―are thoroughly compelling. So are the extra-human elements, thanks to the extraordinary imaginative flights of Powers’s prose, which persuades you on the very first page that you’re hearing the voices of trees as they chide our species.”
- Michael Upchurch, Boston Globe
“A rousing, full-throated hymn to Nature’s grandeur.”
- Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle
“An extraordinary novel....An astonishing performance....There is something exhilarating, too, in reading a novel whose context is wider than human life. The Overstory leaves you with a slightly adjusted frame of reference....What was happening to his characters passed into my conscience, like alcohol into the bloodstream, and left a feeling behind of grief or guilt, even after I put it down.”
- Benjamin Markovits, The Guardian
“Powers is the rare American novelist writing in the grand realist tradition, daring to cast himself, in the critic Peter Brooks’s term, as a 'historian of contemporary society.' He has the courage and intellectual stamina to explore our most complex social questions with originality, nuance, and an innate skepticism about dogma. At a time when literary convention favors novelists who write narrowly about personal experience, Powers’s ambit is refreshingly unfashionable, restoring to the form an authority it has shirked.”
- Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
“This book is beyond special. Richard Powers manages to turn trees into vivid and engaging characters, something that indigenous people have done for eons but that modern literature has rarely if ever even attempted. It's not just a completely absorbing, even overwhelming book; 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
“The Overstory is a visionary, accessible legend for the planet that owns us, its exaltation and its peril, a remarkable achievement by a great writer.”
- Thomas McGuane
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While Powers certainly doesn’t need authentication of his narrative power—he has already won a National Book Award among many literary prizes—I can vouchsafe that he is an excellent storyteller. Similarly, his ability to create characters that may stretch the bounds of believability but still generate passionate sympathetic feelings in the reader is also beyond doubt.
Thus, I found myself reading the Overstory with every free moment I had over two days and loving nearly every page.
The overarching philosophy of the work is that human beings, either willfully or not, do not understand the amount of destruction they are causing to the world’s flora. Plants and trees, one of the oldest of the earth’s kingdoms, are only now beginning to be understood as beings that communicate, learn and in some instances even care for their own offspring. The human caused biocide of the world’s flora is a tragedy not only because these trees may have medicinal or other useful properties for humans but also because each one is a beautiful product of nature fashioned over millions of years. In the author’s view, we seem to be destroying some of the most important parts of creation, so that everyone can, so to speak, have a bigger projection screen TV.
Nor are biofuels, renewable energy or other technological fixes likely to stem this downward spiral. Even virtual reality is only going to be as interesting as the humans who create it and so cannot be a genuine substitute for the complexity of what nature provides for us gratis in the real world.
The author seems to envision only two scenarios: either humankind will wipe itself out and the earth will generate new, unforeseeable solutions to life or artificial intelligence will impose a solution on a humanity which cannot save itself.
To those who have read optimistic works like Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now or related perspectives such environmental pessimism is somewhat startling. I can’t say that I am fully persuaded by Powers’ perspective but I can appreciate the accuracy of his science, the literary craftsmanship that went into embodying these ideas and the importance of his overall message.
So, if you are willing to endure a literary punch to the stomach and put on apocalyptic glasses then you will thoroughly enjoy The Overstory. But, though a love of trees thoroughly permeates the book, it is hardly a walk in the park.
If I were still in my 20s or even 30s I would be buying copies of this book and thrusting them all on my friends and telling them it is a must read. Now that I'm considerably older than that, I'm not so naive. You have to come to it of your own. The trees themselves will call you do it, just as in the book.
Of course, it's a clarion call to our species to stop wreaking havoc on the earth and all its species, including our own. And, of course, it is a cry in the dark. We will destroy ourselves and then the planet can begin to recover. It's happened many times during the earth's long history and will happen many times again. Too bad for us. Let's hope some of those magnificent giants out live us to help heal earth after we have destroyed it.
Nevertheless, read this book and try to change the "live only for today and the next dollar" ethos.
Top international reviews
Geralmente, romances com temáticas ambientalistas – especialmente aqueles que querem falar sobre a degradação do ambiente – se ternam facilmente distopias. Aqui, o tom é totalmente realista com uma urgência do presente. O romance fala pelas árvores por meio de seus 9 protagonistas, cujas tramas eventualmente se cruzam ou não. Com tanto personagem é impossível manter o mesmo nível, e alguns deles e suas histórias são mais bem resolvidos do que outros.
O romance começa com uma família de imigrantes noruegueses que se mudam para os Estados Unidos, no século XIX, e levam consigo sementes de castanheiro. Uma delas vinga e se transforma numa grande árvore que é fotografada por um membro da família todo ano num mesmo dia do mês de março. A tradição passa para seus descendentes, mesmo que sua fazenda sofra com a modernização, e deixe de ser o que era.
A evolução humana – social, cultural, econômica, política... – é pensada aqui por meio de árvores, pela forma como elas se transformam. E também pelas mudanças e avanços tecnológicos – o que, como se sabe, nem sempre terá um caráter positivo. Os personagens, de uma maneira ou outra, sempre se relacionarão com árvores. Formalmente, Powers se interessa como um romance pode ser narrado a partir do ponto de vista não-animal. Como focalizar a narrativa pela percepção das árvores?
O primeiro capítulo, no qual, em poucas páginas acompanhamos a evolução de uma família por meio de diversas gerações, em sua fazenda no Iowa, é exemplar. Isso, paralelamente, às fotografias anuais acompanhando a evolução do castanheiro. Mas o narrador não deixa de perceber que “tudo o que um ser humano chamaria de *história* [story] acontece fora da moldura da foto.” The Overstory está interessado naquilo que acontece, porém, dentro do quadro da foto, assim humanos e suas emoções, sentimentos e afins são secundários. É original e corajoso o que o autor faz, mas nem todos os segmentos funcionam muito bem. O retrato dos ecoativistas, por exemplo, não escapa muito dos clichês – mas, nesse caso, talvez não seja exatamente culpa de Powers.
Se a relação entre tecnologia e humanos é questão nos romances do autor, aqui, ele traz uma nova variável à equação: árvores. O resultado pode ser desigual, mas sua ambição é bem vinda e memorável, na maioria das vezes.
In this book almost every word every sentence every paragraph was a strain.
At the end of each chapter you were left thinking do i want to torture myself by starting the next one.
I don't understand how this book could receive any award !
Don't waist your time or money.