Summary and book reviews of The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory

A Novel

by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers X
The Overstory by Richard Powers
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

A monumental novel about trees and people by one of our most "prodigiously talented" (The New York Times Book Review) novelists.

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers--each summoned in different ways by trees--are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest.

In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of--and paean to--the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours--vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? "Listen. There's something you need to hear."

Excerpt
The Overstory

First there was nothing. Then there was everything.

Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages. A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying

things, in words before words.

It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

It says: A good answer must be reinvented many times, from scratch.

It says: Every piece of earth needs a new way to grip it. There are more ways to branch than any cedar pencil will ever find. A thing can travel everywhere, just by holding still.

The woman does exactly that. Signals rain down around her like seeds.

Talk runs far afield tonight. The bends in the alders speak of long-ago disasters. Spikes of pale chinquapin flowers shake down their pollen; soon they will turn into spiny fruits. ...

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  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2019

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, mesmerizing. But one word succinctly captures the feeling I come away with every time I put a novel of his down: awe. Of course, given that I look forward to a new Powers novel just as eagerly as my daughter waited for the next in the Harry Potters series, I will be the first one to admit I come to the table already biased. But Powers meets my ridiculously high expectations every single time. He does it again with The Overstory, a sprawling, messy, breathtaking and yes...awe-inspiring tome about trees.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (616 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A masterpiece of operatic proportions.... A magnificent achievement.

Booklist
Starred Review. A magnificent saga....Powers's sylvan tour de force is alive with gorgeous descriptions; continually surprising, often heartbreaking characters; complex suspense; unflinching scrutiny of pain; celebration of creativity and connection; and informed and expressive awe over the planet's life force and its countless and miraculous manifestations....profound and symphonic.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A deep meditation on the irreparable psychic damage that manifests in our unmitigated separation from nature.

Author Blurb Bill McKibben
This book is beyond special. Richard Powers manages to turn trees into vivid and engaging characters, something that indigenous people have done for eons but that modern literature has rarely if ever even attempted. It's not just a completely absorbing, even overwhelming book; it's a kind of breakthrough in the ways we think about and understand the world around us, at a moment when that is desperately needed

Author Blurb Thomas McGuane
The Overstory is a visionary, accessible legend for the planet that owns us, its exaltation and its peril, a remarkable achievement by a great writer.

Reader Reviews

J

Remorse
Reading this book brought a revelation. It also made me very sad that it was not available to read 70 years ago. I grew up in logging country and lived in Humboldt County during the 70s, 80s and 90s when all the timber wars took place. If I had ...   Read More

Tom Matamoros

Way Better Than Very Good
Overstory is an exceptional book. Richard Powers deserves to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the smartest and most accomplished American novelist. I recommend all readers of literary fiction read Overstory. I guarantee you will not be ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

India's Chipko Andolan

Chipko MovementIn The Overstory, a few of the characters become environmental activists in order to save the wealth of forests in the American West and Pacific Northwest. In the novel, Richard Powers refers to many save-the-trees efforts around the globe, including the Chipko Andolan in the 1970s in the Himalayan region of India.

Chipko Andolan literally translates to Stick (as in cling) Protest, as the mostly women who took part in the struggle against logging companies stood their ground by wrapping their arms around the trees that were scheduled to be felled.

The Chipko Andolan was born in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (the region of the Himalayas where it originated is now part of a new state, Uttarakhand). India and China went to ...

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