I just finished Rebecca Solnit’s luminous new book, The Faraway Nearby. It is so brimming with breathtaking passages that I am tempted to just line up quotations so that you can see for yourself:
“Books are solitudes in which we meet.” This is the final sentence of Solnit’s essay, “Ice,” on the allure of the Far North through an examination of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
“You devour yourself because there is no one else that you can reach.” This appears in “Unwound,” an essay that starts in Iceland but also muses on the Buddha in India and Che Guevara’s journey that inspired The Motorcycle Diaries.
The Faraway Nearby is a book of essays. Each stands alone. But the strands are intricately and insightfully interwoven. Che, who first shows up in an essay about leprosy, among other things, reappears in a consideration of the life of the Buddha. Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinmakes several appearances, including in a paragraph about hermaphrodite polar bears.
These examples highlight the “Faraway” in the title. But the book opens and closes with Solnit’s relationship with her mother, exemplified by an abundance of apricots that appears on her doorstep one day. The “Nearby.” The dance between the two permeates the book from beginning to end.
I feel that this brief review is a jumble. In the same way, the book itself is a glorious jumble that brought me to tears. Here is one more taste, from the opening passage of “Ice”:
“Not the slender gray book with the Viking ship embossed on its cover. Not the deep blue one with the endpapers that map Greenland and the Canadian arctic. Nor the turquoise one with the Inuit faces on the wide spine. Nor the dark green one with white letters and a white polar bear printed on the coarse fabric cover. But the first English-language book, a thick one titled Arctic Adventure, bound in pale blue with an embossed blue dogsled and blue driver. This one tells the tale of what it means to live inside your own breath.”