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H is for Hawk
Winner of BookBrowse's 2015 Nonfiction Award.
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Strange book but interesting to read

Created: 04/03/16

Replies: 14

Posted Apr. 03, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
michellem

Join Date: 03/12/14

Posts: 6

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I learned a lot about falconry I didn't know about. Helen choose an unorthodox way to deal with her father's death. I don't think I would have chosen this path. I am confused about Helen's reaction to White. Was he a good guy or a bad guy. I wish I had more insight to Helen's relationship with her father, maybe a few more flashbacks in the book would help. I am glad I read the book but it took me a while to accomplish that.


Posted Apr. 03, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Suzanne

Join Date: 04/21/11

Posts: 229

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

The book was a surprise to me. I knew the general plot: young woman training with a hawk. And the depth of emotions Helen revealed in her writing was an eye-opener. I have trouble saying this will be a favorite book of mine, not only because has taken me longer than usual to read but tracking the events of the story seemed to foreign to me.


Posted Apr. 04, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
crofly

Join Date: 06/14/13

Posts: 29

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

The book was a different experience for me as well. Firstly, I don't read many memoirs. However, Helen's prose is great and reads like fiction.I was fascinated with the protagonist and wanted to keep reading. Although it may seem to most like an odd way to cope with the loss of a loved one, I understood it. This was a challenge for her--something very different and that required a lot of mental fortitude to get through. In a way, it parallels the loss of a loved one. I enjoyed the falconry details. I really felt that I was there with her learning. I have a lot of respect for people who do this.


Posted Apr. 08, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
againstthetide

Join Date: 04/14/11

Posts: 20

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I agree completely! I always review the books I read, and here's an excerpt regarding what I thought about the book immediately after finishing.

"If I were a book critic for the New York Times or some other esteemed journal, I'd be forced to give this book a five star rating. Macdonald's prose is exquisite and evocative and very poetic. She managed to blend a memoir, a biography, and a tribute to nature all in one book. So, from that standpoint, it has a certain brilliance about it. . . .

Because Macdonald's prose is so blindingly beautiful and descriptive, I feel as though somehow the fact is lost that her memoir really isn't all that revealing. I feel like she held back. We get glimpses of her love for her father, her feelings of loss. The book references T.H. White's story very often, and to me, that also felt very arms length. The highlight for me is how she portrays her relationship with Mabel, and I do like that she doesn't anthropomorphize the hawk in the process. I honestly would have enjoyed the book more if she had hung the entire book on the process of training this hawk, but I can see why she didn't - - there really isn't enough there."

The writing was so beautiful, but on some level, I never felt the degree of empathy for Helen or even the depth of her sadness . . .and I think this book had the makings of something very very special, but instead I also ended up agreeing with Suzanne's characterization "strange, but interesting" as opposed to "moving and unforgettable". I think the potential for the latter was there in the idea . . .


Posted Apr. 11, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JAKL1

Join Date: 12/06/12

Posts: 55

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I enjoyed the book because it took me places that I have never been, mainly raising a goshawk. In the middle of reading this book, I had to researched the goshawks and how they are trained. I still wonder why anyone would want to train a hawk. They are big and scary to me. Plus trying to feed a hawk with dead or live animals is not my cup of tea.


Posted Apr. 11, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
tracyb

Join Date: 09/22/11

Posts: 66

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I was looking forward to this read. There was a lot of jumping around which I learned to expect as I continued reading. Not that I liked it. Possibly it reflected Helen's broken world. Her falling apart, no job & owing money was she just running away? Relationship with mother & brother????????


Posted Apr. 13, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
marganna

Join Date: 10/14/11

Posts: 111

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

Such a wonderful book. I loved every page of it! Not strange; very interesting to read. I discovered so many things about hawking & about White. I felt it was deeply personal & heart wrenching. Yes, there might have been more about Helen's relationships - dad - mom - bro - but it wasn't about them. It was about Helen's reaction to her sudden loss & how she recovered.
This book will now join my "10 best books" list which I have to admit is pretty flexible & changes all the time but it is such a beautifully written book - the language & descriptions & everything that Helen writes is reason enough to read this book. Pick up the book, open it to any page & read the beautiful descriptions.
It will be a strong recommendation to my book club!


Posted Apr. 15, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
elizabethl

Join Date: 06/19/13

Posts: 12

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

The writing is beautiful, much better than most memoirs. But I found it very hard to get through and I don't think it was the subject matter. I wonder if the writing style itself was off putting - too good, too mannered?


Posted Apr. 15, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Mary Louise

Join Date: 04/15/16

Posts: 4

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I completely agree with Againstthetide and Elizabeth - the writing is exquisite. I found myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs just for the lyrical beauty of them. I also agree that it is not exactly a memoir in the strictest sense of the word; Helen writes about a very specific time in her life, a very specific trauma, the sudden death of her father, and her intense reaction. I must admit, and I don't mean to sound callow here, but her grief at the death of her father initially seemed to me to be overwrought. Of course the death of a parent is sad, and, depending on the relationship of the bereaved with the parent, can be very upending. But I just couldn't understand, or empathize with her seemingly complete breakdown. But as I continued to read, I think I got it. There's a passage when, as she prepares to fly the hawk free, she says it is a testing of the lines between us, of habit, hunger, partnership and familiarity, or, Love. And then she says "it's not a thing that's easy to do when you've lost trust in the world and your heart is turned to dust." I began to realize that she is not so much mourning her father, but the loss of her past, her security, her "center." Later on, in the same chapter she says that she needed Mabel because she was "secure in her place in the world" and there was no "regret or mourning in her. No past or future. She lived in the present only and that was my refuge. My flight from death was on her barred and beating wings." A few chapters later she talks about her desire to possess the hawk's eye, looking down on the world, invulnerable, detached and complete. yet she, Helen, realizes she does not feel safe. I think she does not feel safe from death, mortality. And that is what this memoir is about. By the end, she has begun to reconcile herself to her own human-ness, with all it's attendant uncertainties and griefs, and also it's happiness and delights.


Posted Apr. 18, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
KateB

Join Date: 02/11/16

Posts: 56

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

These are great quotes, Mary Louise. I think "She lived in the present only and that was my refuge" is a key line and one of the many points where I think MacDonald finds expression of her personal grief that can be understood by many people. In times of crisis, people often cannot do more than hang on to the here and now, because memories of someone who is gone and thoughts of the future without them are just too painful.


Posted Apr. 18, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Mary Louise

Join Date: 04/15/16

Posts: 4

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

Exactly. But I also feel that Helen is fearful of the future for many reasons, job insecurity, some sense of disengagement, whatever, and her father's death is what sends her over the edge. She is clinically depressed also, not just "depressed" because her father died. She has a lot of issues. This book is a thoughtful and intense attempt to explore those issues and heal.


Posted Apr. 23, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Windsong

Join Date: 05/07/13

Posts: 70

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

My book club and I loved this book. We agreed that it was not an easy read, but each of us inadvertently picked different sections to discuss which made the book even more enjoyable. I knew about T.H, White through The Once and Future King. I did not know about his personal issues and nothing about his training of hawks.


Posted Apr. 24, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
judykoplan

Join Date: 01/06/12

Posts: 3

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I agree with all that this was a beautifully written book. But I, too, found it a difficult read, as she evoked almost-too-clearly the violence and pain involved in flying Mabel. It did leave me curious about falconry and musing about how numbness and pain interweave during the grief process. The book has provoked thought and I will not soon forget it, but I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed reading it. And perhaps that was in part her intention in sharing her journey.


Posted Apr. 28, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
KateB

Join Date: 02/11/16

Posts: 56

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RE: Strange book but interesting to read

I think that's a really interesting comment, judykoplan. Often I read books for enjoyment - probably mostly I read for enjoyment. But also I read to find out about lives very different from my own, or to look at the world from a different point of view. I agree that this is not an enjoyable read in the sense that I was rushing to turn the page or deeply anxious for Helen. That said, I was very moved by her experience and particularly by her language. I'll remember this a lot longer than many books that I've enjoyed reading more at the time!


Posted May. 01, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
judykoplan

Join Date: 01/06/12

Posts: 3

RE: Strange book but interesting to read

Well said, KateB! That captures exactly how I experienced the book. Difficult, at times very painful, but profoundly thought-provoking. Like you, I am an avid reader but often read for entertainment - enjoyment and/or escape. Books such as this give me a deeper, richer experience by inviting soul exploration. Macdonald took me at times to places within myself that were hidden, painful and even violent but then to places that were transcendent and joyful. I do think that was the conscious intention of a talented and accomplished author.


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