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Soundings: Journeys in the Company of Whales

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'Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured.' Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, b 'Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured.' Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, by bus, train and ferry, are Doreen Cunningham and her young son Max, in pursuit of a wild hope: that their family of two can make it by themselves. Doreen first visited Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, as a young journalist reporting on climate change among indigenous whaling communities. There, she joined the spring whale hunt under the neverending Arctic light, watching for bowhead whales and polar bears, drawn deeply into an Inupiaq family, their culture and the disappearing ice. Years later, plunged into sudden poverty and isolation, living in a Women's Refuge with her baby son, Doreen recalls the wilderness that once helped shape her own. She embarks on an extraordinary adventure: taking Max to follow the grey whale migration all the way north to the Inupiaq family that took her in, where grey and bowhead whales meet at the melting apex of our planet. Soundings is the story of a woman reclaiming her life, mile by mile; a child growing to love an ocean that is profoundly endangered; and a mother learning from another species how to parent in a time of unprecedented change. Intrepid, brave and breathtaking, her journey will take you to the ends of the earth, alongside the whales that call it home.


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'Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured.' Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, b 'Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured.' Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, by bus, train and ferry, are Doreen Cunningham and her young son Max, in pursuit of a wild hope: that their family of two can make it by themselves. Doreen first visited Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, as a young journalist reporting on climate change among indigenous whaling communities. There, she joined the spring whale hunt under the neverending Arctic light, watching for bowhead whales and polar bears, drawn deeply into an Inupiaq family, their culture and the disappearing ice. Years later, plunged into sudden poverty and isolation, living in a Women's Refuge with her baby son, Doreen recalls the wilderness that once helped shape her own. She embarks on an extraordinary adventure: taking Max to follow the grey whale migration all the way north to the Inupiaq family that took her in, where grey and bowhead whales meet at the melting apex of our planet. Soundings is the story of a woman reclaiming her life, mile by mile; a child growing to love an ocean that is profoundly endangered; and a mother learning from another species how to parent in a time of unprecedented change. Intrepid, brave and breathtaking, her journey will take you to the ends of the earth, alongside the whales that call it home.

30 review for Soundings: Journeys in the Company of Whales

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathie

    I wasn't sure what to expect from this book - a parenting memoir, a travel story, a book about whales, a treatise on global warming? It ended up being a little bit of all of the above, with a love story gently layered in. I learned more about whales, Iñupiaq culture and whale hunting than I ever thought possible (and, the 8 year old wannabe marine biologist still inside me was delighted). The story is split between the author's time in Alaska living with an Iñupiaq family and learning about whal I wasn't sure what to expect from this book - a parenting memoir, a travel story, a book about whales, a treatise on global warming? It ended up being a little bit of all of the above, with a love story gently layered in. I learned more about whales, Iñupiaq culture and whale hunting than I ever thought possible (and, the 8 year old wannabe marine biologist still inside me was delighted). The story is split between the author's time in Alaska living with an Iñupiaq family and learning about whale hunting and a trip she took with her two year old son to follow the grey whale migration up the west coast of the US. The timeline jumped around a lot in the first half of the book and although it wasn't hard to keep up, it felt abrupt and took you out of the core story. I think it could have been a much more straightforward narrative if some details were cut down a bit. The last quarter or so of the book was my absolute favorite. Overall it's a beautiful read and well worth your time. With thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    At last. Thats what I felt when I read this book. I knew there were insecure, foul mouthed and brilliant mothers out there doing amazing things - I just hadn't read them before. Soundings is the memoir of an extraordinary woman and her young son. They are fellow adventurers. Together they migrate thousands of miles looking for grey whale mothers and pups. Like the ocean that fills it this story rolls with complicated currents of the personal and universal, life and death, the human and non human At last. Thats what I felt when I read this book. I knew there were insecure, foul mouthed and brilliant mothers out there doing amazing things - I just hadn't read them before. Soundings is the memoir of an extraordinary woman and her young son. They are fellow adventurers. Together they migrate thousands of miles looking for grey whale mothers and pups. Like the ocean that fills it this story rolls with complicated currents of the personal and universal, life and death, the human and non human world, moving and migration. The cold hard stuff is laid bare and so too is love. All sorts of love. The flow of Cunninghmans writing dives deep but gives you lots of air to take it all in. As a reader you too will go on a fabulous Soundings journey and you will not want it to stop.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christine Marshall

    Soundings is one of the most beautiful books I have read which isn't an easy thing to accomplish when the author is grappling with such important and difficult topics. The book artfully and poetically takes you on a journey through many different landscapes, the descriptions of the Arctic and the Utqigvik community we meet there are the ones that I really loved. The way that facts about global warming are woven in are subtly and masterfully done. I haven't read or felt a landscape so closely, al Soundings is one of the most beautiful books I have read which isn't an easy thing to accomplish when the author is grappling with such important and difficult topics. The book artfully and poetically takes you on a journey through many different landscapes, the descriptions of the Arctic and the Utqigvik community we meet there are the ones that I really loved. The way that facts about global warming are woven in are subtly and masterfully done. I haven't read or felt a landscape so closely, almost as if it were a person itself. The relationship between the narrator and her son are especially moving and even though we travel through experiences that were sometimes incredibly difficult we also come to the end of this story feeling optimistic about the power of human relationships and the love and attachments we have with the natural world that carry us through.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    4.5 rounded up I’ve been on an arctic kick ever since I read Stockholm Sven so the ice is in my blood, as Doreen would say. I loved this story of a journalist who comes out of an ugly custody battle and decides to take her young son and track a migration of grey whales from Mexico to Alaska. Interspersed with this journey are stories from her time in a whaling community in Alaska seven years earlier. The first maybe 40% I thought the timeline was muddled and confusing, and that it felt like didn 4.5 rounded up I’ve been on an arctic kick ever since I read Stockholm Sven so the ice is in my blood, as Doreen would say. I loved this story of a journalist who comes out of an ugly custody battle and decides to take her young son and track a migration of grey whales from Mexico to Alaska. Interspersed with this journey are stories from her time in a whaling community in Alaska seven years earlier. The first maybe 40% I thought the timeline was muddled and confusing, and that it felt like didn’t integrate the science into her story very smoothly. In a single chapter, she would talk about her current journey, her previous relationship, her childhood, Alaska 7yrs ago and three to four paragraphs of scientific info with end notes. Even though this first part felt clunky, I kept coming back because it really is a great story.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Scribner for an advanced copy of this combination memoir/ nature writing/ and cultural study. Animals follow migratory paths to follow the food, to go to places of safety for mating and birthing, and some just do it by instinct. Humans travel to make a better life for themselves and their children, but also to find themselves, and to make sense of this crazy world. Both migrate to feel safe and safe with their decisions. Doreen Cunningham in her book My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Scribner for an advanced copy of this combination memoir/ nature writing/ and cultural study. Animals follow migratory paths to follow the food, to go to places of safety for mating and birthing, and some just do it by instinct. Humans travel to make a better life for themselves and their children, but also to find themselves, and to make sense of this crazy world. Both migrate to feel safe and safe with their decisions. Doreen Cunningham in her book Soundings Journeys in the Company of Whales: A Memoir writes about her life both roaming along with grey whales on the migratory path, with her young son, and about her life living among a Iñupiag family in Alaska, migrating her own path to happiness and acceptance. We first meet Doreen and her son at her lowest point, living in a woman's refuge, not able to afford and or sell her apartment, another casualty of her divorce. Doreen decides, with a surprise loan and some research to follow the North wards migration of grey whales, taking her son along so that he can experience it, and show that if you try and plan anything can happen. Plus Doreen needs a mission, a goal to rise up out of her current situation. At the same time she thinks of the last great time that she felt happy and loved, and that was while living in a small Alaska town, among the indigenous people, who had given her love and a feeling of safety. Soon she sets out, with her son, on a two part adventure/ migration/ spirit quest. The story is good, and told well though there is a lot of jumping around in the narration that might make it hard for some readers to follow along, or might make them want to give up entirely. They shouldn't as this book has a lot to say and much to teach. Once the reader locks into the writing the style the book becomes far more than a crazy, probably unsafe trip for mother and child. The reader learns about nature, travel, parenting, cultural studies, quite a bit in such a slim book. This is not an A to B to C book, it takes a little work, but really the small victories that the two win together really make the book worth reading. Cunningham is very honest about her mistakes, poor decisions, and her thoughts. However she does love her child, and at the end herself, and that is rare in a book. A different kind of story about nature and parenting, which really do go together. Both have risks and their share of rewards, and are both worth fighting for. The book is also a cultural study for a dying way of life as shown by life in Alaska. Recommended for readers of Artic Dreams by Barry Lopez, Lab Girl by Hope Johnson and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmer.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Megan S

    When I saw this book at the library I did not pick it up. Which for me is unusual because I am obsessed with the intelligent alien life forms AKA whales that we share this planet with. Unfortunately I was burned before by a nonfiction memoir/whale science book, one Fathoms: The World in the Whale. The empty, overly flowery language in that book left such a bad taste in my mouth that I thought this would be a repeat, and I couldn’t put myself through that! But the next time through the library I d When I saw this book at the library I did not pick it up. Which for me is unusual because I am obsessed with the intelligent alien life forms AKA whales that we share this planet with. Unfortunately I was burned before by a nonfiction memoir/whale science book, one Fathoms: The World in the Whale. The empty, overly flowery language in that book left such a bad taste in my mouth that I thought this would be a repeat, and I couldn’t put myself through that! But the next time through the library I decided to give it a go. I can only deny myself my whale passions for so long. And after the first 20 pages or so, I was hooked. Here I found honesty, a memoir of the challenges of womanhood and motherhood containing such depth that only the ocean could bear it. I feel privileged to have heard the author’s story and I felt such a connection with her and her experiences. Her childhood spent looking to animals when her human connections were frayed and fraught. Her love for her child and her journey of self discovery, divining strength from the perseverance of grey whale mothers, and the generosity of the Indigenous people of the north. It was an absolute joy to read. One minor flaw: the time jumps were at points difficult to follow. I think one change could have made it easier - dates/years in the chapter subheadings rather than coordinates.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samara Turner

    I loved this book. It’s the perfect combination between the travelling memoir of a struggling single mother, and a scientific tale based on whale migration and climate change. My attention was captured from the first few pages as the author brings us along for her journey with the whales. This book reminded me a lot of another travel-based memoir called ‘Wild’. While the writing style differs. Both authors delve into the lives and culture of the North American Inuit people, which I find totally f I loved this book. It’s the perfect combination between the travelling memoir of a struggling single mother, and a scientific tale based on whale migration and climate change. My attention was captured from the first few pages as the author brings us along for her journey with the whales. This book reminded me a lot of another travel-based memoir called ‘Wild’. While the writing style differs. Both authors delve into the lives and culture of the North American Inuit people, which I find totally fascinating. As the mother of a toddler myself I can only imagine what it must have been like to embark upon such an adventure alone with two year old in tow. Having another parent there, to lean upon when i need a moment of respite; is something I so often take for granted. I commend Cunningham first for being brave enough to embark up such a journey; and second for being able to recount her experiences in such an entertaining way.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    This was a strange one for me. I bought this expecting something vastly different than what I got- I was somewhat anticipating straight up whales. What I got was a bit more than just whales; delving into parenting and relationships between friends, strangers, and a mother and son. None of this non whale discussion was bad at all- it is honestly a great book. However I wasn’t really in the right headspace for all of this, so I knocked a star off my overall rating.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Lee

    What a beautifully written book about a mum and son on a journey to watch whales. The author has lit up the far north in a way that no one else has for me. She has told a story that is so relatable yet has taught me more about climate and environment issues than I ever would have been interested enough to seek out on my own. It’s both poignant and eye opening, laced with hope. I think this is a really important book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo Rawlins

    A gloriously brave and beautifully told tale of one (exceptional) woman reclaiming her life and simultaneously learning how to be a single parent. All of this with the stunning background of a description of whales' migration and reflections on climate change. A truly original and remarkable book. I highly recommend this! 'It was worth having no hope, only so I could experience receiving it back.' A gloriously brave and beautifully told tale of one (exceptional) woman reclaiming her life and simultaneously learning how to be a single parent. All of this with the stunning background of a description of whales' migration and reflections on climate change. A truly original and remarkable book. I highly recommend this! 'It was worth having no hope, only so I could experience receiving it back.'

  11. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Weinberg

    A gorgeous book mapping the journey of a woman and her son as they follow whale migration. This was very well written and took you to the sea to experience the massive creatures with a good mix of education on global warming and the author’s personal stories. Poignant, riveting and beautiful. Thanks to Netgalley for an eARC of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mavis Gulliver

    I am totally blown away by this incredible first novel. The author skillfully weaves her personal story with the plight of grey whales, polar bears and people who try to live their lives at the edge of the melting ice. It is sensitive, lyrical and filled with bravery and determination. I can't praise it highly enough. I am totally blown away by this incredible first novel. The author skillfully weaves her personal story with the plight of grey whales, polar bears and people who try to live their lives at the edge of the melting ice. It is sensitive, lyrical and filled with bravery and determination. I can't praise it highly enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roshini

    Such a lovely book...I am crazy about whales so I can fully resonate. I went to the Arctic as well and was lucky enough to see a bowhead, blues, humpbacks and many more!! They are all wonderful and this book gave them so much love and character.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sheila Lynn

    Soundings by Doreen Cunningham is heart wrenchingly personal and globally encompassing. What a fantastic life journey to share. I highly recommend reading it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Clare

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sibi Rush

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cassie Nolan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elise

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura Vaughan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara Carey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Graham Dockrill

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tara Von

  25. 5 out of 5

    Johanna

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bethany Crowe

  27. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shawna

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Marshall

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abby

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