“That vast pile of apricots included underripe, ripening, and rotting fruit. The range of stories I can tell about my mother include some of each too….There are other stories, not yet ripe, that I will see and tell in later years.”– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
It starts off with a basket of apricots, apricots that become an allegory.The gift of apricots that Solnit’s estranged mother gives her starts to decay, much in the the same way as her mother’s mind (she is suffering from Alzheimer’s) is doing. Through the observing of the apricots, she makes sense of her mother and her relationship with her. Honesty and important insights throughout, this was a rewarding book.
It’s still early days in the year but I may very well remember 2015 as the year I came across Rebecca Solnit. What she can do with an essay is something I can only dream of doing. The essays in this book are of the most creative and poetic I’ve ever read in my life. Solnit’s writing is quite simply, captivating. It’s obvious she has a deep soul, as is evidenced by her enlightening philosophical musings.
A common thread that runs through this is the author’s experiences with her dying mother, her coming to grips with it, as well as her own fight with cancer and other tragedies in her life. There is a sense of connection in the book as we are reminded that everything is connected as we are connected, the thread linking the narratives while creating a tapestry.The thread is also a journey of self-discovery that makes a lot of twists and turns along the way.
She reminds us the importance of empathy and to remember there are as many simultaneous stories going on as there are people:
“We are all heroes of our own stories, and one of the arts of perspective is to see yourself small on the stage of another’s story, to see the vast expanse of the world that is not about you, and to see your power, to make your life, to make others, or break them, to tell stories rather than be told by then.”
Additionally, I am rewarded with great insight on the role of writing:
“Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest.”
Apart from all this, Solnit is very knowledgeable and discusses many people and topics. Perhaps her musings on Che Guevara and Iceland were my favourite. Her clever way of looking at things, especially infused with insights from fairytales and mythology, were especially exciting.
I think it’s the mark of a great encounter with a writer when, as soon as you finish reading their book, you’re already on the lookout for more. Solnit had that effect on me.
As for the remaining apricots, “The two jars before me are like stories written down; they preserve something that might otherwise vanish. Some stories are best let go, but the process of writing down and giving stories away fixes a story in its particulars, like the apricots fixed in their sweet syrup, and the tale then no longer belongs to the writer but to the readers. And what is left out is left out forever.”
I would recommend this to all fans of the literary essay, and all those wanting to be inspired.