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Orwell's Roses

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“In the year 1936 a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter wit “In the year 1936 a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the surviving roses he planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this understudied aspect of Orwell’s life explores his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left), to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism. Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers encounter the photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her Stalinism, Stalin’s obsession with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s critique of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes her portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as a reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.


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“In the year 1936 a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter wit “In the year 1936 a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the surviving roses he planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this understudied aspect of Orwell’s life explores his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left), to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism. Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers encounter the photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her Stalinism, Stalin’s obsession with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s critique of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes her portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as a reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.

30 review for Orwell's Roses

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    “In 1936, a writer planted roses”….. A beautiful tribute to George Orwell …..a passionate gardener, especially flowers, ….(who knew?)…. Rebecca Solnit said she wrote this book in a time of intense crisis, around climate environment, and nature, around human rights, democracy, media, technology, gender, and race, and around the questions of who would be allowed to speak and who would check the liars. “Living for a few years with one foot in Orwell’s time made me think about who did Orwell’s work “In 1936, a writer planted roses”….. A beautiful tribute to George Orwell …..a passionate gardener, especially flowers, ….(who knew?)…. Rebecca Solnit said she wrote this book in a time of intense crisis, around climate environment, and nature, around human rights, democracy, media, technology, gender, and race, and around the questions of who would be allowed to speak and who would check the liars. “Living for a few years with one foot in Orwell’s time made me think about who did Orwell’s work in our own. The political essayists, historians, journalists, the media and technology critics, the dissidents and whistleblowers, the human rights and climate organizers and organizers of the marginalized and devalued were compelling presences for me all through the years this book took shape, some as public figures I read or listened to, some as friends and acquaintances whose conversations and examples kept me going, some as both. There were so many….. “Thanks to the Berkeley and San Francisco Rose Gardens and their gardeners and the principles that funded roses for the public”. I felt this book celebrated both George Orwell and Rebecca Solnit. Anyone who examines the life of a lifelong gardener….builds character strength, heals and empowers ….. such as a reminder that during the coronavirus lockdown, people in record numbers began cultivating victory Gardens. The perfect antidote to dealing with a crisis. A blooming, blossoming beauty of a book!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alwynne

    “So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects, and scraps of useless information.” – George Orwell Gardening’s an act of faith, a gesture of hope in the future, that vegetables we plant will grow, that seeds will sprout and someday flowers will burst forth in a riot of colour and scent. By focusing on George Orwell’s love of gardens, his carefully nurtured roses, Rebecca Solnit’s hi “So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects, and scraps of useless information.” – George Orwell Gardening’s an act of faith, a gesture of hope in the future, that vegetables we plant will grow, that seeds will sprout and someday flowers will burst forth in a riot of colour and scent. By focusing on George Orwell’s love of gardens, his carefully nurtured roses, Rebecca Solnit’s highlighting an aspect of Orwell that’s often overlooked. An Orwell who found joy, or reasons for optimism, in small things and in connection with nature, contradicting the popular image of someone essentially earnest or solemn. Solnit’s riveting study of Orwell’s an unconventional one, moving away from standard academic appraisals or linear biography. Instead, she plays to her strengths here, looking at her subject from a variety of angles, spinning out through an array of ideas, associations and, apparent digressions, inspired by her initial reflections on Orwell’s roses. Roses lead Solnit to an iconic photograph by Tina Modotti who later renounced art as a bourgeois distraction from political activism. Modotti’s attitude’s not one Orwell shared. He writes about taking pleasure in a blackbird’s song or a view of a blossoming tree, all the things that reminded him of what made life worthwhile. This divide between politics and culture’s central to Solnit’s discussion. She searches out passages in Orwell’s writing that counter a belief that serious political engagement leaves no space for art or literature or that these are no more than frivolous diversions. Like Orwell, Solnit sees an activity like raising roses as a way to regenerate, to think about what it is that she values. But Orwell didn’t celebrate nature in an unthinking way and neither does Solnit. A portrait of Orwell’s ancestor on his rolling acres of land sparks a discussion of how representations of nature can disguise harsher realities – a reliance on slavery that paid for the portrait and the land it depicts. Solnit’s visit to a Columbian rose farm exposes a similar attempt at masking truths, one that allows us to buy roses on Valentine’s Day without any sense of the conditions they’re grown in or the treatment of the workers who grew them. Solnit relates these examples to Orwell’s broader interest in the manipulation of reality: Winston’s world in 1984, Stalin’s lies and omissions, political lies and lying politicians. I’ve read some of Orwell’s fiction and dipped into his other writings but I don’t have a particular interest in him or his life. Despite this, I found Solnit’s treatment of Orwell utterly compelling. It’s never less than thought-provoking but it’s also entertaining and accessible, admirably disciplined and beautifully-written. I’m sure if I picked at it there are places where it might unravel: some areas are touched on a little too briefly, some threads are a little too loose. But I’m not sure that that matters, I think Solnit’s aim is to share her perspective on Orwell, to examine what he represents for her. She’s trying to set off chains of associations in her readers rather than present them with an exhaustive or settled account. And this is far from settled, it’s a journey not a final destination, a conversation not a lecture, a restless, probing, skilful mix of analytical and deeply personal. Many thanks to Netgalley and to Granta Publications for an arc Rating: 4.5

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vesna

    Orwell is renowned for what he wrote against—authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the corruption of language and politics by lies and propaganda (and sloppiness), the erosion of the privacy that underlies liberty. From those forces, it’s possible to determine what he was for: equality and democracy, clarity of language and honesty of intentions, private life and all its pleasures and joys, the freedom and liberty that also depend to some extent on privacy from supervision and intrusion, and Orwell is renowned for what he wrote against—authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the corruption of language and politics by lies and propaganda (and sloppiness), the erosion of the privacy that underlies liberty. From those forces, it’s possible to determine what he was for: equality and democracy, clarity of language and honesty of intentions, private life and all its pleasures and joys, the freedom and liberty that also depend to some extent on privacy from supervision and intrusion, and the pleasures of immediate experience. In this latest book of her essays, Rebecca Solnit shows us Orwell’s less familiar side, which she uncovers from his diaries and essays, an Englishman of yesterday who took pleasures in his simple homestead life, pastoral landscapes, and the beauty of nature, animals and flowers. He grew his own roses with meticulous and loving care, whose beauty inspired countless poets and painters throughout the centuries. The sheer enjoyment in their beauty and, more generally, intangible things as Orwell found in his cottage and countryside epitomizes the meaningful interior of one’s private life. Its meaning figures in the suffragist slogan “breads and roses” to which Solnit devotes one chapter and keeps turning to this central theme as she searches for an answer to how to make a good life as private individuals while, at the same time, conscientiously responding to larger social injustices, power corruption, and environmental destruction. Through Orwell’s roses as a central metaphor, Solnit then directs us to their other side. Despite their beauty (“The beauty of flowers is not merely visual; it’s metaphysical…”), as everything else, the commercialized world has transformed them into quantifiable commodities. And, as everything else that is commodified, they can turn repulsively ugly with their unnatural looking bouquets masking over the hard labor in their mass production, as we learn from Solnit’s sobering account of her visit to the Colombian floral factory. Was the ugliness in the roses for being produced in such a way or in us for failing to see it? Had the roses become lies of a sort, seeming to be one thing but being in truth another? Were they now emblems of deceit, a kind of counterfeit rose signifying formal beauty rather than their own conditions of production? Much of Orwell’s work was about ugliness of various kinds, but what he found hideous serves as a negative image of what he found beautiful. Taking Orwell’s life and works as a point of departure, Solnit takes us into the multifaceted nature of these contradictions in today’s world, happening both somewhere there in modern versions of physical and ideological gulags and over here in our own lives disconnected from nature and the simplicity of meaningful life. It’s a superb homage from one essayist to another, who was her inspiration as her thoughtful and beautifully written book (though with occasional digressions and sometimes loose connections) should inspire any reader. My thanks to Granta Publications for an ARC via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jen Burrows

    As Solnit states in the opening pages, this is not a straightforward biography of Orwell. Instead, it's a meandering collection of essays that take Orwell's life - or rather, one moment in Orwell's life - as a doorway opening out onto reflections on nature, politics, art and truth. It's also a celebration of essay writing as an art form, and of the multitudinal journeys you can take from any one start point. There is not really any better way to explore Orwell's world than through the form he de As Solnit states in the opening pages, this is not a straightforward biography of Orwell. Instead, it's a meandering collection of essays that take Orwell's life - or rather, one moment in Orwell's life - as a doorway opening out onto reflections on nature, politics, art and truth. It's also a celebration of essay writing as an art form, and of the multitudinal journeys you can take from any one start point. There is not really any better way to explore Orwell's world than through the form he dedicated much of his writing life to. As with all of Solnit's writing, Orwell's Roses is a thoughtful and thought-provoking rumination on a theme that takes you far beyond the bounds of what you were expecting. *Thank you to Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review*

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carlton

    A beautiful literary love letter to, and exploration of the works of, a fellow political essayist. Solnit takes the reader on a journey to discover her joy in reading George Orwell’s essay about planting roses, and why this is not trivial, but core to both Orwell’s pursuit of truth saying and the reader’s political being. Easily readable but meandering essays combine the literary and personal, using, as a starting point, Orwell’s essays about planting rose bushes and fruit trees. Having read thes A beautiful literary love letter to, and exploration of the works of, a fellow political essayist. Solnit takes the reader on a journey to discover her joy in reading George Orwell’s essay about planting roses, and why this is not trivial, but core to both Orwell’s pursuit of truth saying and the reader’s political being. Easily readable but meandering essays combine the literary and personal, using, as a starting point, Orwell’s essays about planting rose bushes and fruit trees. Having read these essays about 35 years ago, and also fondly remembering them, I was captivated by this book. Solnit says at the end of her introductory essay: I had not thought hard enough about those roses I had first read about more than a third of a century before. They were roses, and they were saboteurs of my own long acceptance of a conventional version of Orwell and invitations to dig deeper. They were questions about who he was and who we were and where pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world. Solnit examines Orwell’s love of gardening, which he expanded to what in England we would call a smallholding, to postulate how it underpins his politics, as an “Anarchist Tory”. She references Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier to consider his concern for the working poor, but also from a contemporary standpoint linking it to the industrial revolution’s ecological degradation. His Homage to Catalonia recounts, as an active participant his putting his political beliefs into practice, but also allowed him to “find a set of possibilities and ideals”. Solnit initially digresses in her Roses and Revolution essay, which considers a photograph of roses from 1924 by Tina Modotti, to write about various aspects of roses, including a little repetition of observations made earlier in the book. However, Solnit builds and builds comment and analysis on slavery, colonialism, opium and the British Empire up from Orwell’s essay about roses, linking it to Orwell’s experience in Burma and his gentleman ancestors, before returning to Orwell’s roses again to enlarge her argument. Solnit expands upon gardening to discuss eighteenth century landscape garden, and whilst reading this book, I visited Stowe landscape gardens in Buckinghamshire. I walked around the gardens for hours, admiring the beautifully fashioned and maintained man-made landscapes, embellished with statues, columns, temples, fanes, caves, cascades and bridges to create points of interest and views. I enjoyed the experience of being in an idealised natural world (complete with ha-has to allow the view to extend for miles without the interruption of fences). But I could also wonder about the source of the wealth/oppression that made this beauty possible. I have read a lot of Joan Didion’s books in the last couple of years, and in this book Solnit creates a similar tight focus on a subject by approaching it in multiple and sometimes oblique ways, and also by including reportage (for example, about the Colombian rose growing business), writing as an observer (although not as personal as Didion). Solnit completes our journey with consideration of Orwell’s late essays, Animal Farm, diaries and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but does so always returning to the context of Orwell’s joy from the small pleasures and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical results. A wonderful book which definitely benefits from familiarity with Orwell’s work. I received a Netgalley copy of this book, but this review is my honest opinion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Makenzie

    4.5 stars—do you ever read a book and feel like it was written especially for you?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    A beautiful collection of essays about the inherent political a socioeconomic relationship different people have with nature through the lens of George Orwell's life. The rose is used as the central theme of finding and deserving beauty in a capitalist/totalitarian society regardless of class. Specially impactful the trip to the rose farm with dystopian slogans and attitudes. I learned a lot about Orwell and, as always, I enjoyed Solnit's writing immensely. A beautiful collection of essays about the inherent political a socioeconomic relationship different people have with nature through the lens of George Orwell's life. The rose is used as the central theme of finding and deserving beauty in a capitalist/totalitarian society regardless of class. Specially impactful the trip to the rose farm with dystopian slogans and attitudes. I learned a lot about Orwell and, as always, I enjoyed Solnit's writing immensely.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jen K

    Solnit writes about George Orwell but also so much more. Instead of a biography, she used Orwell's life, politics, writing and especially his garden as a touching off point to delve into so many other issues but historical and contemporary. She delves into the coal trade then and now and the effects on both the hardship of those working in the mines and the effect on global warming and climate change. She discusses the roses that Orwell planted and she tracked down but also the tie into the gene Solnit writes about George Orwell but also so much more. Instead of a biography, she used Orwell's life, politics, writing and especially his garden as a touching off point to delve into so many other issues but historical and contemporary. She delves into the coal trade then and now and the effects on both the hardship of those working in the mines and the effect on global warming and climate change. She discusses the roses that Orwell planted and she tracked down but also the tie into the genetic study and modification of roses which leads to eugenics but also to the state of flower farms and especially those working in flower farms in Columbia. Plus so much more with a bent towards the environment, politics and social justice. I thoroughly enjoyed her study and well written essays as she created a trail of connections to Orwell's garden.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    It appears that George Orwell wasn’t just the incisive and perceptive political and social critic and novelist that we think we know, one of the most important writers and thinkers of the 20th century, but also a keen gardener, a lover of flowers and plants and vegetables, about which he was just as concerned as he was about the oppressed. Rebecca Solnit explores this aspect of Orwell with insight and nuance, opening up a whole new side of his character, thus informing our approach to him both a It appears that George Orwell wasn’t just the incisive and perceptive political and social critic and novelist that we think we know, one of the most important writers and thinkers of the 20th century, but also a keen gardener, a lover of flowers and plants and vegetables, about which he was just as concerned as he was about the oppressed. Rebecca Solnit explores this aspect of Orwell with insight and nuance, opening up a whole new side of his character, thus informing our approach to him both as man and writer. But the book isn’t solely about Orwell. Solnit ranges far and wide. The book is also very much a personal odyssey, with many a side trip to Stalin’s purges, Mexico’s revolutions, the writing of Jamaica Kincaid and many more interesting byways. The result is an always surprising, original, engaging and thoroughly fascinating book full of new ideas, insights, digressions, trivia and leaps of imagination which I found compelling throughout.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Lesurf

    This is another of those special non-fiction books by Rebecca Solnit - in the tradition of Bruce Chatwin, Sven Lindqvist, and Robert MacFarlane - that takes an interesting central theme, in this case, the author’s journey to discover the rose garden planted by Eric Blair (George Orwell) at his Wallington cottage in the late 1930s, which is then wrapped in a network of informative, related stories - or forays as Solnit refers to them: forays which like much of Orwell’s work includes the environme This is another of those special non-fiction books by Rebecca Solnit - in the tradition of Bruce Chatwin, Sven Lindqvist, and Robert MacFarlane - that takes an interesting central theme, in this case, the author’s journey to discover the rose garden planted by Eric Blair (George Orwell) at his Wallington cottage in the late 1930s, which is then wrapped in a network of informative, related stories - or forays as Solnit refers to them: forays which like much of Orwell’s work includes the environment, evolution, social justice, history, and life. At its heart, the book is about contradictions - who knew Orwell was so interested in gardening? It’s a fascinating study of life and death, joy and pain, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness. All in all, it’s a page-turner that kept me interested and informed from cover to cover.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

    This is such an interesting read, even for people who might not be Orwell fans. https://piningforthewest.co.uk/2021/1... This is such an interesting read, even for people who might not be Orwell fans. https://piningforthewest.co.uk/2021/1...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    Such a beautiful collection of essays by the wonderful Rebecca Solnit. It is not a regular biography of Orwell but uses a lot of his life to examine various topics - totalitarianism, exploitation, capitalism, writing, gardening... I found it moving, well-documented, clear - her writing is, as always, precise but warm, analytic but full of empathy... It is enjoyable even to someone like me - a casual reader of Orwell - and it makes subtle connections with current events. It was beautiful and enjo Such a beautiful collection of essays by the wonderful Rebecca Solnit. It is not a regular biography of Orwell but uses a lot of his life to examine various topics - totalitarianism, exploitation, capitalism, writing, gardening... I found it moving, well-documented, clear - her writing is, as always, precise but warm, analytic but full of empathy... It is enjoyable even to someone like me - a casual reader of Orwell - and it makes subtle connections with current events. It was beautiful and enjoyable. Free ARC sent by Netgalley.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pascale

    A clever, elegant and thought-provoking book but maybe too much of a tour de force. Solnit's starting point is Orwell's supposedly overlooked love of nature and gardening, and she returns to her main theme in an almost musical fashion. There is a structure to the book and many valid insights into Orwell. Solnit does a great job presenting facts but sometimes let me down when venturing into philosophy. I couldn't help but feeling in turn exhilarated and annoyed by the necessarily subjective and a A clever, elegant and thought-provoking book but maybe too much of a tour de force. Solnit's starting point is Orwell's supposedly overlooked love of nature and gardening, and she returns to her main theme in an almost musical fashion. There is a structure to the book and many valid insights into Orwell. Solnit does a great job presenting facts but sometimes let me down when venturing into philosophy. I couldn't help but feeling in turn exhilarated and annoyed by the necessarily subjective and arbitrary choice of topics she decided to weave into her narrative. Personally I didn't learn much from her about the evils of the Soviet Régime, but I guess there are plenty of readers out there who don't know the truth or refuse to acknowledge it. On the other hand I was unaware of the scale of the rose-growing industry in Columbia and the very mixed blessing it is for the local population.

  14. 4 out of 5

    LittleSophie

    A wonderfully intellectual but whimsical book, which takes Orwell's work and life as the start point for ruminations on nature, ecology, politics and much more. Solnit's talent for the essay form is well served here, as she meanders through several episodes and topics without ever losing the overall arc of the book. A kind and enlightening book that I still think about. (And that is not all down to the fact that I recently tried growing roses myself...) A wonderfully intellectual but whimsical book, which takes Orwell's work and life as the start point for ruminations on nature, ecology, politics and much more. Solnit's talent for the essay form is well served here, as she meanders through several episodes and topics without ever losing the overall arc of the book. A kind and enlightening book that I still think about. (And that is not all down to the fact that I recently tried growing roses myself...)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Another extraordinary book from Rebecca Solnit. In this one she argues not just for “bread, and roses too”—with roses serving as a kind of add-on to a program for social change, but for the necessity of bread and roses together, for sustenance and pleasure, work and joy, as equal components of a fully-lived politics and life. As part of this argument, she offers an appreciation of George Orwell, usually viewed by even his admirers as one of the most dour of English authors, as a writer who also Another extraordinary book from Rebecca Solnit. In this one she argues not just for “bread, and roses too”—with roses serving as a kind of add-on to a program for social change, but for the necessity of bread and roses together, for sustenance and pleasure, work and joy, as equal components of a fully-lived politics and life. As part of this argument, she offers an appreciation of George Orwell, usually viewed by even his admirers as one of the most dour of English authors, as a writer who also took great pleasure in the natural and sensual world. And then, in one of her signature reversals, Solnit complicates this endorsement of beauty and joy, symbolized by the rose, in a section exposing the brutal factory conditions in which most of the commercial roses for the US market are produced (in Columbia). Her book thus becomes an argument for garden rather than store-bought roses—that is, for pleasures that are made and grown close to home, made by ourselves or people known to us, rather than mass-produced for our consumption. In this way, her argument is Orwellian—progressive, independent, free-thinking—in a positive sense.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    What a gift when a book by a beloved writer covers two of your favorite topics: an artist’s duty to tell the truth in times of increasing authoritarianism, and the peace that comes in growing your own roses. Solnit’s close reading of Orwell’s appreciation for flowers reveals several urgent truths in this era of destabilization.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    “In the spring of 1936, a man planted roses. To write it that way makes the man the protagonist, but the roses were protagonists as well. You could, for example, say some domesticated roses—in the family Rosaceae in the genus Rosa that has succeeded in getting humans to hybridize and propagate it throughout much of the world—benefited from a man spending his sixpences and then toiling to plant and tend them. As Michael Pollan wrote in The Botany of Desire, we think of these plants as something w “In the spring of 1936, a man planted roses. To write it that way makes the man the protagonist, but the roses were protagonists as well. You could, for example, say some domesticated roses—in the family Rosaceae in the genus Rosa that has succeeded in getting humans to hybridize and propagate it throughout much of the world—benefited from a man spending his sixpences and then toiling to plant and tend them. As Michael Pollan wrote in The Botany of Desire, we think of these plants as something we domesticated, but it could be argued that they domesticated us to tend and propagate them. Plants are anything but passive. They made the world.” I wonder if Solnit takes requests, because she can write about anything and make it interesting, so I need some finance essays from her, please. Am I the only person who is decently well read but has never read Orwell? I know what Orwellian means, and it is not that I disagree with a lot of his ideas, but they never appealed to me, seemed dated, and for some reason was not required reading in any high school or lit classes. I still see no need to read him, but the idea of his very consequential life being bracketed by roses is refreshing and worth a read. There was more biography that she promised, but I forgive her. Solnit is the most important writer of our lifetimes, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next… The oldest redwood in Muir Woods is 1,200 years old, so more than half its time on Eath had passed before the first Europeans showed up in what they would name California. A tree planted tomorrow that lived as long would be standing in the thirty-third century ad, and it would be short-lived compared to the bristlecones a few hundred miles east, which can live five thousand years. Trees are an invitation to think about time and to travel in it the way they do, by standing still and reaching out and down. If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it, and people have found a particular kind of peace in forests, meadows, parks, and gardens. The trees made the past seem within reach in a way nothing else could: here were living things that had been planted and tended by a living being who was gone, but the trees that had been alive in her lifetime were in ours and might be after we were gone. They changed the shape of time. There’s an Etruscan word, saeculum, that describes the span of time lived by the oldest person present, sometimes calculated to be about a hundred years. In a looser sense, the word means the expanse of time during which something is in living memory. Every event has its saeculum, and then its sunset when the last person who fought in the Spanish Civil War or the last person who saw the last passenger pigeon is gone. To us, trees seemed to offer another kind of saeculum, a longer time scale and deeper continuity, giving shelter from our ephemerality the way that a tree might offer literal shelter under its boughs. It is instead a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses. As such, it’s also a book about roses, as a member of the plant kingdom and as a particular kind of flower around which a vast edifice of human responses has arisen, from poetry to commercial industry. They’re a widespread wild plant, or many species of plant, and a widely domesticated one, with new varieties created every year, and when it comes to the latter, roses are also big business. Roses mean everything, which skates close to meaning nothing. They’ve been used to make larger points, from the medieval philosopher Peter Abelard’s use of roses as an example for an exploration of universals to modernist Gertrude Stein’s “Rose is a rose is a rose.” There’s a cultural view in which flowers are dainty, trivial, dispensable—and a scientific one in which flowering plants were revolutionary in their appearance on the earth some two hundred million years or so ago, are dominant on land from the arctic to the tropics, and are crucial to our survival. “It was the rise of the flowering plants that provided that energy and changed the nature of the living world. Their appearance parallels in a quite surprising manner the rise of the birds and mammals.”Loren Eiseley. The complementary relationships between angiosperms and animals generated, Eiseley argues, a world more intricate and interconnected, and the concentrated foodstuffs sped mammalian evolution. There might be evolutionary reasons why we too find flowers so attractive, since our lives are so bound up with theirs…Our lives depend, if not exactly on flowers, then on flowering plants. They are part of a plant family, Rosaceae, of more than four thousand species, including apples, pears, quinces, apricots, plums, and peaches, as well as brambles and the thorny blackberries and raspberries whose flowers resemble wild roses’ blooms. In his writing the hideous and the exquisite often coexist. When he went to Germany to report on the end of the Second World War, he came across a corpse near the footbridge that was one of the last unbombed bridges across the river through Stuttgart: “A dead German soldier was lying supine at the foot of the steps. His face was a waxy yellow. On his breast someone had laid a bunch of the lilac which was blooming everywhere.” It makes a picture and strikes a balance, that yellow face and those lilacs, death and life, the vigor of the spring and the immense devastation of the war. The lilacs don’t negate the corpse or the war but they complicate it, as the specific often does the general. So does the unseen hand that had laid a bouquet on a soldier and the news that lilacs were blooming in Stuttgart, which in 1945 was shards and rubble from the thousands of tons of bombs dropped on it by British airplanes in the course of the war. If you dig into Orwell’s work, you find a lot of sentences about flowers and pleasures and the natural world. If you read enough of those sentences the gray portrait turns to color, and if you look for these passages, even his last masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, changes complexion. These sentences are less ringing, less prophetic than the political analysis, but they are not unrelated to it, and they have their own poetics, their own power, and their own politics. Nature itself is immensely political, in how we imagine, interact with, and impact it, though this was not much recognized in his era. The German corpse has something to tell us, and it’s about war and nationalism, and about an encounter with death. The flowers also have something to tell us in that sentence, perhaps that there’s something beyond the war, just as there’s cyclical time, the time of nature as seasons and processes imagined until recently as outside historical time. A human being lives in both, as a political actor, a citizen of this place or that, a seat for a mind with opinions and beliefs, but also as a biological entity, eating and sleeping and excreting and breeding, ephemeral like flowers. George Woodcock wrote, “The source of his self-regenerative power lay in his joy in the ordinary, common experiences of day-to-day existence and particularly of contact with nature. He fed from the earth, like Antaeus.” In one of the lyrical, semi-opaque sentences I came across as I tried to understand the genesis of coal, I read, “After Laurentia had converged with Avalonia and Baltica, bringing the two halves of the UK together in the Caledonian Orogeny, Gondwana continued to drift north.” It was an alien planet, long before flowering plants, long before mammals, very long before the conditions under which humans would evolve had emerged. There were no words on this planet, and no names: many worlds rose and fell away in succession on the same planet, a planet that changed again and again when it came to its geology, its geography, its biology, the contents of its atmosphere, and its climate, an Earth on which we did not belong and that we would not recognize. By the Carboniferous, the once barren surface of the earth had gone green with growing things that had crept out of the oceans and evolved and built soils atop the stony expanses. The land near the equator was riotously alive with plants. The coal forests, as these equatorial abundances were known, were made up of giant club mosses, immense tree ferns, hundred-foot-tall horsetails, and primitive trees. The angiosperms, the flowering plants, would not appear for more than a hundred million years, but these plants did what plants do. They broke down water and released the oxygen and took in carbon dioxide and used it for energy and building materials. (less) Joe Lamb, who’s a tree surgeon and poet with a degree in evolutionary biology, remarked to me, “One way of looking at trees is that they are captured light. Photosynthesis, after all, captures a photon, takes a little energy from it before re-emitting it at a lower wavelength, and uses that captured energy to turn air into sugars, and then sugars into the stuff that makes leaves, wood, and roots. Even the most solid of beings, the giant sequoias, are really light and air.” precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is no doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to ‘Nature’ in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually ‘sentimental,’ two ideas seem to be mixed up in them.” Art that is not about the politics of this very moment may reinforce a sense of self and society, of values and commitments, or even a capacity to pay attention, that equip a person to meet the crises of the day. She reminded me what my Black neighbors had taught me earlier that decade, that the yearning to be more rugged, more rustic, more rough, more scruffy, is often a white and a white-collar yearning, and that those who have only recently escaped agricultural work, maybe sharecropping or slavery or migrant labor, who have survived being treated as dirty or backward, are often glad to be polished and elegant. You have to feel securely high to want to go low, urban to yearn for the rural, smooth to desire roughness, anxious about artificiality to seek this version of authenticity. And if you see the countryside as a place of rest and respite you’re probably not a farmworker. Kincaid, who grew up in Antigua, when the small Caribbean island was still a British possession, speaks as if all that was unspoken in that genteel Britain had gathered to form a voice of tremendous force. She wrote, “I cannot tell you how angry it makes me to hear people from North America tell me how much they love England, how beautiful England is, with its traditions. All they see is some frumpy, wrinkled-up person passing by in a carriage waving at a crowd. But what I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes brings, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue.” Colonialism meant knowing too much about the colonizers and their place, too little about one’s own people and their places. She wrote in that essay, titled “Flowers of Evil,” about the floating gardens of the valley of Mexico—what is now Mexico City—and about Cortez’s invasion and the cocoxochitl plant that came back to Europe and was named after a Mr. Dahl of Sweden and hybridized into innumerable showy varieties of dahlia, its origins forgotten. Elsewhere, she wrote most ferociously of all about daffodils. The word beauty is one of those overly roomy words, frayed around the edges, ignored through overfamiliarity, often used to mean purely visual beauty. But the kinds of beauty that the Oxford English Dictionary enumerates include many that are not visual, including “that quality of a person or thing which is highly pleasing or satisfying to the mind; moral or intellectual excellence,” an admirable person, an impressive or exceptionally good example of something. The artist Zoe Leonard was bashful about making beautiful images during the AIDS crisis and said so to fellow artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, who replied, “Zoe, these are so beautiful, and that’s what we’re fighting for. We’re being angry and complaining because we have to, but where we want to go is back to beauty. If you let go of that, we don’t have anywhere to go.” So beauty can be both what one does not wish to change and where one wishes to go, the compass or rather North Star for change. The slogans were in that genre often called Orwellian, which is to say they were ominous in their insincerity and unsettling in their contradictions and their imposition on workers who seemed unlikely to agree wholeheartedly with them or to be wearing them by choice. Insofar as these roses were beautiful, their beauty was meant to occur somewhere else, for someone else, a continent away. A rose worker had told Nate, “Today, a flower is not produced with sweetness but with tears. Our product is used to express beautiful feelings throughout the world, but we are treated very poorly.” How many aspects of a thing can you strip away before it ceases to be what it is called; when does something cease to be itself and become something else; when does meaning fall apart or definition stretch until it shreds? Scent is a kind of voice, a way in which flowers speak—“caresses floating in the air,” the poet Rainer Maria Rilke called it. Not many writers become adjectives, and even Joycean or Shakespearean don’t circulate the way that Orwellian does. A quick search for the word at The Washington Post produced 754 results, including “an Orwellian corporate bureaucracy of censors”; “Orwellian tactics of information suppression”; “an Orwellian test for immigrants”; “Orwellian assaults on objective reality”; “Orwellian language to obscure evil”; even “Orwellian doublespeak,” in which Orwell’s signal achievement was to name and describe as no one else had the way that totalitarianism was a threat not just to liberty and human rights but to language and consciousness, and he did it in so compelling a way that his last book casts a shadow—or a beacon’s light—into the present. But that achievement is enriched and deepened by the commitments and idealism that fueled it, the things he valued and desired, and his valuation of desire itself, and pleasure and joy, and his recognition that these can be forces of opposition to the authoritarian state and its soul-destroying intrusions. The work he did is everyone’s job now. It always was.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Dilley

    "In the spring of 1936 a writer planted roses." Rebecca Solnit uses this statement as the jumping-off point for an extraordinary book about George Orwell and what his planting of roses means. This is not a biography of Orwell, though within a relatively slender volume Solnit covers huge swathes of his life - including the writing of The Road to Wigan Pier, his experiences during the Spanish Civil War and the writing of Nineteen Eighty Four - illuminatingly and authoritatively. She is prepared to "In the spring of 1936 a writer planted roses." Rebecca Solnit uses this statement as the jumping-off point for an extraordinary book about George Orwell and what his planting of roses means. This is not a biography of Orwell, though within a relatively slender volume Solnit covers huge swathes of his life - including the writing of The Road to Wigan Pier, his experiences during the Spanish Civil War and the writing of Nineteen Eighty Four - illuminatingly and authoritatively. She is prepared to look much further than the immediate circumstances of Orwell's life, however, ranging from the Carboniferous period to the photography of Tina Modotti, and she is fiercely engaged with questions of ecology, equality and social justice. This may all round rather daunting but in fact this is an immensely readable book - Solnit discusses every topic she discusses with tremendous clarity and wisdom, and somehow makes them part of a unified argument. Orwell is her inspiration here, both his "relentless scrutiny of the monstrosities and underlying dangers in the present and the future", but, equally importantly, "the things he valued and desired, and his valuation of desire itself, and pleasure and joy, and his recognition that these can be forces of opposition to the authoritarian state and its soul-destroying intrusions." Orwell's home and garden in Wallington, Hertfordshire is crucial to the latter, though often overlooked by biographers, and Solnit argues that this aspect of Orwell's life is key to a full understanding of the man and his work. Solnit does not flinch from the monstrosities of our own time, and partly as a homage to Orwell's journey to the industrial north, she travels to Colombia to observe the working conditions for those employed in the floral industry. This is probably the most harrowing section of Solnit's book, but she finishes with a re-reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four in which she observes "how much lushness and beauty and pleasure" there is in the novel: "they're endangered, furtive, corrupted but they exist." I loved these observations and they have made me keen to re-read the novel too. Rebecca Solnit is an author I have been meaning to read for a while, and this deeply moving and insightful book has definitely convinced be to look out more of her work. No particular interest in Orwell is required to appreciate this book, just a willingness to make connections between different aspects of the world in which we live. Many thanks to NetGalley and Granta for sending me an uncorrected proof for an honest review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    heather

    3.5 Fascinating, but it read more like a jumping off point for analysis than a landing zone. ...No shame in that, it got my researcher brain excited to do more digging, but still something about it, in both tone and content, read as cursory and incomplete.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    What a gem this series of essays is! I'd not read Orwell since, well, forever ago, and know him primarily through Animal Farm and 1984- and had no idea of his amazing and sadly short life. Solnit, on learning of his love for gardening and roses, began to explore Orwell's life in a unique way. Everything goes back to his relationship with nature, which becomes more important to him as he ages. I learned a great deal thanks to Solnit's essays and liked the fact that she eschewed a straight-line bi What a gem this series of essays is! I'd not read Orwell since, well, forever ago, and know him primarily through Animal Farm and 1984- and had no idea of his amazing and sadly short life. Solnit, on learning of his love for gardening and roses, began to explore Orwell's life in a unique way. Everything goes back to his relationship with nature, which becomes more important to him as he ages. I learned a great deal thanks to Solnit's essays and liked the fact that she eschewed a straight-line biography for a more personal tour of his life. It sent me back to (honestly) wikipedia for a few more details not only about Orwell and his work but also about others in his orbit. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Great read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine Liu

    Luminous and breathtaking. Every chapter in this book is a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay to be read, reread, and savored. This books makes me want to read everything George Orwell ever wrote, and then also read everything Rebecca Solnit has written.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Books By Your Bedside

    Thanks to Granta for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review. Is there a bibliophile around today who doesn’t admire Orwell’s writing? Either because they love it, or it aids their own reading and writing experience, or it makes them think of things bigger than themselves? Orwell is a much loved author, but this isn’t just another straight forward biography. It is so much more than that. Instead, it is a series of essays, combine Orwell and Solnit’s writing, stemmed from Or Thanks to Granta for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review. Is there a bibliophile around today who doesn’t admire Orwell’s writing? Either because they love it, or it aids their own reading and writing experience, or it makes them think of things bigger than themselves? Orwell is a much loved author, but this isn’t just another straight forward biography. It is so much more than that. Instead, it is a series of essays, combine Orwell and Solnit’s writing, stemmed from Orwell’s love of gardening - a pleasant activity one wouldn’t necessarily link to the brain who came up with Animal Farm and 1984. There are some really lovely photo his book that make Orwell seem so…well…normal. Regardless of his opinions, for the majority of his life, he was just like any other young man living through the wars, these photos show there wasn’t necessarily anything obviously special about him. I didn’t realise just how beautifully things like trees and plants can be written about before this. You get a new appreciation of plant life and what it means to us as a race. It is clear how gardening and Roses have entwined with his experiences with war, politics, mining, and of course, his writing. You can tell how Orwell’s musings on Roses influenced his popular works, and Solnit adds a perfect amount of commentary, background information, and personal views to compliment his work. You can clearly see her passion when it comes to Orwell’s passion. It does stray to the outskirts of repetitiveness at times, but it never fully goes there, which is a talent on Solnit’s part to sustain such a heavy interest. This is a relatively short book at just over 270 pages, but it is full of lovely description that brings a more human element to the excellent author, the same as his brilliance adds to him as a humble gardener.

  23. 5 out of 5

    mylogicisfuzzy

    In her latest book of essays, Rebecca Solnit takes inspiration from George Orwell’s love of gardening, in particular the roses he planted in 1936 while living in Hertfordshire, still growing on her visit seven decades later. This less known aspect of Orwell’s life takes Solnit on a meandering exploration of Orwell’s life and writing, totalitarianism, tyranny, colonialism, social injustice and social change, political engagement, consumerism, nature, and beauty. It is an unexpected, thoughtful an In her latest book of essays, Rebecca Solnit takes inspiration from George Orwell’s love of gardening, in particular the roses he planted in 1936 while living in Hertfordshire, still growing on her visit seven decades later. This less known aspect of Orwell’s life takes Solnit on a meandering exploration of Orwell’s life and writing, totalitarianism, tyranny, colonialism, social injustice and social change, political engagement, consumerism, nature, and beauty. It is an unexpected, thoughtful and stimulating book that I enjoyed very much. I particularly liked the way Solnit makes connections. From Stalin’s obsession with making lemons grow in a cold climate and the plight of Colombian workers supplying cut flowers for export to the US, to Tina Modotti’s photographs of roses and Jamaica Kincaid’s writing. I also liked her exploration of how to live a ‘good life’ (although she doesn’t explicitly say so) or rather how to unify living a life with purpose, caring about truth, justice and human rights with a life of pleasure, that is hours spent with no quantifiable practical result in contemplation or experience of beauty, art and nature. Solnit’s meanderings take her to a new insight and appreciation of 1984, while the book has given me a new appreciation for her wonderful and unique mind. Highly recommended. My thanks to Granta and Netgalley for the opportunity to read Orwell’s Roses.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Raffetto

    Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit covers much of the same ground I do in my book Inside Orwell and Other Stories. I love that because I have a deep respect for Solnit’s writing. Solint does include an angle I do not: Orwell’s love and passion for the natural world. It’s stunning that the roses Orwell planted are still thriving. I learned the dark side of roses from this engaging and important book. This is another Solnit 5-star read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Seigler

    George Orwell is easy to define in terms of things that he hated: totalitarianism and government control of people's private lives, among other things. His classic novel "1984" pretty much stands as the ultimate expression of what a state bent on total control looks like, how it insinuates itself into every fiber of a country's being. But as Rebecca Solnit explores in this new book, Orwell can also be defined by the things that he loved. And one of those things was to plant roses. "Orwell's Rose George Orwell is easy to define in terms of things that he hated: totalitarianism and government control of people's private lives, among other things. His classic novel "1984" pretty much stands as the ultimate expression of what a state bent on total control looks like, how it insinuates itself into every fiber of a country's being. But as Rebecca Solnit explores in this new book, Orwell can also be defined by the things that he loved. And one of those things was to plant roses. "Orwell's Roses" is an examination of the aspects of Orwell's creativity that found expression in his rose garden, developed when he moved to the rural village of Wallington in 1936 as a struggling writer still trying to find his own voice amid the chaos of the Great Depression and the approach of World War II. Solnit weaves together a fascinating narrative of Orwell's career and life, discussing how he was impacted by his poor health, middle-class background, choice to live among the poor and dispossessed, and affinity for the underdog. But it was also Orwell's interest in cultivating a garden, and the roses that ultimately outlived him and everyone he knew, that form the central thesis of the book: you can be a serious writer, a political writer, without losing your soul. Orwell (real name: Eric Blair) was born early in the twentieth century and came of age during the tumult of the First World War and the uneasy peace that helped lead to the outbreak of the Second twenty years later. His desire to transcend his family led him to forsake his name for "George Orwell" and to travel to regions of devastating poverty (northern England) and violent turmoil (Spain during its Civil War, where he fought alongside the anti-Fascist forces). Orwell blossomed as a writer in part because of these experiences, Solnit argues, and his work from 1937 onward is among the best writing produced during the twentieth century, not just the fiction. Solnit also looks at the ways in which roses are both a product of peaceful nature and an emblem of the complications that an industrialized world can impose (her tangent about the "flower factory" in Colombia that produces over 80% of the world's roses, and the Orwellian slogans that the employees of that company are forced to wear on their work clothes, is chilling). From a painting of English aristocrats who had all that time to pose for their portraits because their money came from slave plantations in the Caribbean, to the unspoken source of wealth for the family at the center of Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," to Jamaica Kincaid's fury at how she has no native language other than the English imposed on her native land by colonizers, Solnit shows the ways in which art is never just art. There's always a political context to it, and we ignore it at our own peril (though we often find it easy to do do, especially if we are counted among the privileged who have never experienced firsthand some of the inequities of the world around us). This is about more than George Orwell or his garden, in the best tradition of literary non-fiction. "Orwell's Roses" will be worth your time if you want a small glimpse into the "softer" side of a writer committed to exposing the hypocrisy of his times and the evils that men do on both sides of the political spectrum. It's also a great look at the world that we have made, and the price that we continue to pay for that world. And it's about more than roses, but also all about them, still growing in a garden in England decades after the hand that planted them was stilled by death.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    In 1936 George Orwell planted some trees and some rose bushes around a country cottage in Hertfordshire, England, where he was living. A few years ago Rebecca Solnit made a pilgrimage to the cottage. The current owners were aware of the Orwell connection. They told her that Orwell's trees had been cut down in the 1990s when the house was expanded, but the rose bushes were still "exuberantly alive" and in bloom. Solnit weaves this deep and exciting book from her thoughts on Orwell's roses. Like th In 1936 George Orwell planted some trees and some rose bushes around a country cottage in Hertfordshire, England, where he was living. A few years ago Rebecca Solnit made a pilgrimage to the cottage. The current owners were aware of the Orwell connection. They told her that Orwell's trees had been cut down in the 1990s when the house was expanded, but the rose bushes were still "exuberantly alive" and in bloom. Solnit weaves this deep and exciting book from her thoughts on Orwell's roses. Like the great essayists, she does not go in a straight line or try to develop a logical extended argument. She wanders around the different paths leading from Orwell's roses. Solnit discusses and borrows a technique which Orwell frequently used. He would bounce from a particular and peculiar topic to large topics it triggered. His essays on racy postcards and murder mysteries and the England's bad climate, all do it. Solnit goes from Orwell's love of roses into a critique of left wing or socialist puritanism. Orwell was criticized on the left for spending too much time on frivolous topics. She develops the discussion into the importance of remembering what the revolution is suppose to get us. There is a very well told travelogue section on her trip to Columbia to investigate the rose factories. I was completely unaware that 80% of US roses are grown in a small area of Columbia where the traditional economy has been destroyed and workers endure terrible conditions and poor pay. The connection to Orwell is not just the roses. She compares the conditions with the coal miners who Orwell wrote about in the 1930s and, in a sharp turn, she compares the peppy slogans printed on the workers uniforms with Nineteen Eighty-Four's newspeak. I also, to confess my ignorance, found out the significance of the "Bread and Roses" slogan. Solnit gives us the very interesting history and connects it up to her theme that Orwell always insisted on the importance of remembering the roses because bread alone is not freedom. Solnit is a great fan of Orwell as a writer and a man but this is not a hagiography. She points out that Orwell was oblivious to woman's rights. He was not an active misogynist, as many intellectuals of his time were, but he just didn't seem to think it was important. Solnit is very active in battling climate change and protecting the environment. That is another issue which Orwell said little about, although he did have a profound appreciation for nature. She points out that even in a book as urban and grim as Nineteen Eighty-Four, nature forces its way in. Orwell lived in a tiny cottage on the Island of Jura off the Scottish Coast after ww2. He lived there with his son. His wife had died suddenly. He was dying from lung disease while trying to finish his last novel. I was surprised by Solnit's description of how remote he was. Visiting Orwell from London took a train, bus and ferry and then an 8 mile walk. Solnit was disappointed because Covid-19 stopped her from being able to visit the island. These are well written and thoughtful essays by one really smart and interesting writer about another really smart and interesting writer who she very much admires.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jayasri Prasanna

    I have never read such an intellectual book about Roses. When I got into it, I was not at all prepared for the amount of information I am about to consume. Orwell's Roses is about Orwell and the roses but not exactly about them at the same time. Divided into 7 parts, it feels like an ode to the writer himself. Despite the strong biographic mood, Orwell's Roses also deals with nature, politics, art and life of Orwell through his writings. Now, I haven't read anything that's written by Orwell but t I have never read such an intellectual book about Roses. When I got into it, I was not at all prepared for the amount of information I am about to consume. Orwell's Roses is about Orwell and the roses but not exactly about them at the same time. Divided into 7 parts, it feels like an ode to the writer himself. Despite the strong biographic mood, Orwell's Roses also deals with nature, politics, art and life of Orwell through his writings. Now, I haven't read anything that's written by Orwell but this book made me search for everything he wrote. There's also this interesting tangent with Tina Modotti and Stalin's Lemons, but Solnit ultimately comes back to Orwell. Roses in this book is not just a flower but also a symbol for revolution, freedom and casual pleasures of life. I particularly enjoyed part 2 where she talks about the perils of coal mining. The Spanish Civil War part is also enlightening with so many new things that I was not aware of previously. With that all said, I particularly like how Solnit didn't idealize the man. His shortcomings are also discussed with along with his deep roots in colonialism. I also like to note that as much as this book talks about the past, it does highlight the monstrosity of the present times too. And the finishing touch with a rereading of 1984 has increased my interest in the book. I must be lying if I said that I totally enjoyed this book. There were some parts that dragged and I had to switch this for reading other books. and I found the pacing in the middle of the book a bit lagging for my taste. However, I must admit that I am new to reading essays and it might be something to do with me. Overall, I found this book thoroughly entertaining and informative. This is my first Solnit and I look forward to reading more of her. Thank You, NetGalley and Granta for providing me with the ARC.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Did you know George Orwell was a keen gardener? I for one didn’t, having only read the quintessential Orwells (Animal Farm, 1984) during my poli-sci years. Rebecca Solnit’s not-quite biography of George Orwell and how his love of gardening and the natural world interwove with his writing is fresh and a joy to read, and encourages you to reacquaint yourself with Orwell’s works; or if you’re like me, encourages you to read more of George Orwell – and injecting into your reads a sense of optimism a Did you know George Orwell was a keen gardener? I for one didn’t, having only read the quintessential Orwells (Animal Farm, 1984) during my poli-sci years. Rebecca Solnit’s not-quite biography of George Orwell and how his love of gardening and the natural world interwove with his writing is fresh and a joy to read, and encourages you to reacquaint yourself with Orwell’s works; or if you’re like me, encourages you to read more of George Orwell – and injecting into your reads a sense of optimism and hope.   At the same time, this isn't just a book about seeing the beauty and joy in the everyday, Solnit reminds us this beauty and joy often come at a high price, highlighting the instances where the cultivation and acquisition of roses cause more harm than good. Her visit to a rose factory in Bogota, Colombia and her conversations with the workers there was illuminating, and opened my eyes to the exploitation occurring in the flower industry. Like Orwell, Solnit seeks to spotlight those harmed by rampant capitalism (well, industrialisation in Orwell's time) in this book. All in all, this was enjoyable to read seeing as I'm unfamiliar with Orwell himself and now I have a new perspective on him.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cliff.Hanger.Books

    I think this book brought me out of my inspiration slump. This is the kind of book that makes me feel extremely jealous that the author imagined, researched and put it together so beautifully. I also feel like this about Anna Tsing’s The mushroom at the end of the world. How does one come to write like that? But also it makes me feel incredibly privileged to read them and that they exist in the first place. This book is about Orwell and his garden. In this book the garden is a source of joy and I think this book brought me out of my inspiration slump. This is the kind of book that makes me feel extremely jealous that the author imagined, researched and put it together so beautifully. I also feel like this about Anna Tsing’s The mushroom at the end of the world. How does one come to write like that? But also it makes me feel incredibly privileged to read them and that they exist in the first place. This book is about Orwell and his garden. In this book the garden is a source of joy and inquire she builds on Jamaica Kincaid’s reading on nature filtered though colonialism and class. Orwell the gardener and writer are mapped through webs of meaning that entangle the garden were he planted his roses with Soviet history, Capitalism and British colonial past. If you enjoy nature writing, a good discussion about what it means to write and the idea of Orwell through Rebecca Solnit eyes, this is for you. Simply flawless

  30. 4 out of 5

    The Pearl Review

    Having read several of Solnit's beautifully brilliant, meandering essay collections, it is touching to see her enthusiasm for and kinship with George Orwell. I would also argue this is possibly a singular work in its particular way of analyzing Orwell, namely through his more Thoreauvian tendencies. Though I would still recommend a A Field Guide To Getting Lost first among her books, this was also thoroughly enjoyed. She weaves many strands together, and of her activist pieces I found some of th Having read several of Solnit's beautifully brilliant, meandering essay collections, it is touching to see her enthusiasm for and kinship with George Orwell. I would also argue this is possibly a singular work in its particular way of analyzing Orwell, namely through his more Thoreauvian tendencies. Though I would still recommend a A Field Guide To Getting Lost first among her books, this was also thoroughly enjoyed. She weaves many strands together, and of her activist pieces I found some of these essays, especially regarding the Bolivian roses, my favorite of those I've encountered of hers.

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