World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: A review


A challenge I have set for myself in 2021 is to read more nonfiction books. This book was my first effort at achieving that challenge. 

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the American daughter of immigrants. Her mother is Filipina and her father is Indian. When she was growing up, her family moved around quite a bit in this country and she got to know different regions of the country well. She was always interested in the natural world and she was able to observe and gain some insight into it. She learned enough to realize that she preferred to live in an area where winters were not quite as harsh as in some of the eastern and midwestern areas where she had lived. It was for this reason that, as an adult, she turned her gaze southward. And that is how she and her husband and their two young sons ended up in Oxford, Mississippi, where she is a professor of English and writing at the University of Mississippi. Nezhukumatathil is a poet who has published four collections of poems to some renown. 

Now she has given us this short book of a collection of nature essays that is just a bit more than that. Interwoven into her observations and appreciations of catalpa trees, fireflies, narwhals, newts, Cactus Wrens, and saguaro cactus are reflections on her own existence and on her experience of growing up as a "brown girl" in America. She experienced the feelings of not belonging, of being "other," and of searching for a place that she can feel is her perfect forever home. She relates this most vividly in her observations of the red-spotted newt. This little newt wanders the forest floor looking for the perfect pond, the one where it can feel at home. When it finds it, it stays there.

The essay which I found most affecting was the one about fireflies. She talks of the fireflies she remembers from her childhood and bemoans the poverty of experience of so many children today who don't see them, even if they are all around. I, too, remember those fireflies of childhood and playing outside on late summer evenings with their lights flashing all around me. It was a magical time of day and I, too, am sad that so many of today's children will never experience that.

She writes of the Cactus Wren that builds its nests in the saguaro cactus, a good protection against most predators.  And then there is the whale shark that she encountered while scuba diving, a giant fish swimming with its mouth wide open as to filters food into its system. Even though intellectually she knew it wasn't going to eat her, it was hard to not feel fear as the critter brushed by her. She writes of monarch butterflies, flamingos, peacocks, and cassowaries, and all of these she relates to some aspect of her own story. After all, we, too, are a part of Nature.

This is just a lovely little book of memoir and reflections on the natural world. It was a wonderful respite for me from the news of the day. I am very glad I read it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. Yeah I like reading natural history books -- so I will look for this one. Her long last name takes awhile to get used to. Did you like her book as well as Helen Macdonald's recent essay book Vesper Flights? thx

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    1. Well , I gave Vesper Flights five stars so I guess I would have to say I liked it better, but it's really hard to easily compare the two. This is a much more personal book. They were both winners for me.

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  2. Sounds like a fabulous book. I like nonfiction books and ones about natural history.

    My husband immigrated to the US with his family from the Philippines when he was 7 years old... So just about anything written from or by a Filipino/Filipino-American perspective is of interest to me.

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    1. Then I think you might enjoy this one. I have a sister-in-law who is Filipina - fascinating culture.

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  3. This sounds like it is a wonderful book. I loved nature as a child and that included the fireflies. I wonder if it is true that less of today's kids are connected with nature. It could be as parents are so protective these days.

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    1. Too many of today's kids, I think, are too often enslaved to their electronic devices and can't be bothered to look up. I feel quite fortunate to have grown up before the internet exploded onto the scene.

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  4. I should read this one. The title captured my imagination immediately, because I really do feel that my life is filled with wonders.

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    1. All of lives are filled with wonders, even if we don't always recognize it.

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  5. I can see that this would be a lovely choice for you. I have added it to my wish list.

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  6. Hooray for more non-fiction!! I am so proud of you :)

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    1. If it's as pleasant a read as this one, I'll be happy to fulfill my goal.

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  7. I read so much non-fiction last year that I feel a bit unbalanced. That said I sure learned many things I needed to know. You are in for a great adventure and off to a good start!

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    1. I was unbalanced in the opposite direction - mostly fiction. I much prefer fiction and so I have to make a real effort to include nonfiction.

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