I know I said I was a fiction fanatic, but when I read good nonfiction I just want to tell the world about it. So let me tell you about “H Is For Hawk”.
Helen Macdonald’s “H Is For Hawk” is a beautifully written and thoughtful book that includes patience as one of its many themes. And initially a reader must be patient as the story gradually evolves and draws the reader into Macdonald’s world. H is for Hawk is in part a memoir, and in part literary musings and environmental and ecological warnings. But at its heart, H is for Hawk is a reminder of the deep and irreplaceable importance of love, kindness and humanity in each of our lives. It is also a book of deep introspection and grief.
At the start of H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald focuses on her own grief over the death of her father and her separate but related obsession with goshawks. We travel with her as she acquires and trains her own wild goshawk, Mabel. She loses herself in the training of Mabel, while isolating herself from the people in her life and slowly sinking into a deep depression. At the same time, she takes us through English author T. H. White’s fascination with the goshawk and his ongoing personal crises which he too tries to bury in the training of a goshawk. His story becomes intertwined with hers and we learn about the likely inspiration and personal history behind his well-known novels, “The Sword in the Stone” and “The Once and Future King.”
As the book progresses, Macdonald recognizes her depression and the role her preoccupation with Mabel has played and slowly heals. Interestingly, as MacDonald heals, she thinks less frequently of T. H. White. She continues to focus on Mabel, with a healthier understanding that she and Mabel are linked, but distinct. She thinks more about her father and the characteristics that bind them. At the same time she begins again to interact with the people in her life. And although there are disappointments, she is able to recognize the irreplaceable rewards of love and companionship.
Throughout the process we get a look at the complex relationship between people and animals and people with each other. Macdonald’s descriptions are often painful and vivid illustrations of human and animal cruelty, but there are always lessons to be learned and every action has meaning. For instance, when Macdonald helps Mabel kill and feed on a rabbit, Macdonald comments that “Hunting makes you animal, but the death of an animal makes you human… But the regret wasn’t that I had killed an animal. It was regret for the animal. I felt sorry for it. Not because I was better than the animal. It wasn’t a patronizing sorrow. It was the sorrow of all deaths.” And when she encounters seemingly kind people espousing xenophobic views, she ponders the impact of her failure to respond. “I should have said something. Stomping along, I start pulling on the thread of darkness they’d handed me. I think of the chalk-cult countryside and all its myths of blood-belonging, and that hateful bronze falcon, of Goring’s plan to exclude Jews from German forests.”. Every action (or inaction) has its consequences.
Macdonald’s journey is a slow and sometimes painful one. She acknowledges the need for patience to work through the complexities of experience, just as the reader needs some patience to make her way through the book to obtain an appreciation of the depth and rewards that can be found in Macdonald’s story.
H Is For Hawk can be found at the Cuyahoga County Public Library at http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11142374?lang=eng.