Summary and book reviews of Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer

by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2000, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2001, 434 pages

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Book Summary

Weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia.



Barbara Kingsolver, a writer praised for her "extravagantly gifted narrative voice" (New York Times Book Review), has created with this novel a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself.

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. At the heart of these intertwined narratives is a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches the forest from her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin where she is caught off-guard by Eddie Bondo, a young hunter who comes to invade her most private spaces and confound her self-assured, solitary life. On a farm several miles down the mountain, another web of lives unfolds as Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer's wife, finds herself unexpectedly marooned in a strange place where she must declare or lose her attachment to the land. And a few more miles down the road, a pair of elderly, feuding neighbors tend their respective farms and wrangle about God, pesticides, and the complexities of a world neither of them expected.

Over the course of one humid summer, as the urge to procreate overtakes a green and profligate countryside, these characters find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place. Their discoveries are embedded inside countless intimate lessons of biology, the realities of small farming, and the final, urgent truth that humans are only one part of life on earth.

With the richness that characterizes Barbara Kingsolver's finest work, Prodigal Summer embraces pure thematic originality and demonstrates a balance of narrative and ideas that only an accomplished novelist could render so beautifully.

Chapter One
Predators

Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.

If someone in this forest had been watching her - a man with a gun, for instance, hiding inside a copse of leafy beech trees - he would have noticed how quickly she moved up the path and how direly she scowled at the ground ahead of her feet. He would have judged her an angry woman on the trail of something hateful.

He would have been wrong. She was frustrated, it's true, to be following tracks in the mud she couldn't identify. She was used to being sure. But if she'd troubled to inspect her own mind on this humid, sunlit morning, she would have declared herself happy.

She loved the air after a hard rain, and the way a forest of dripping leaves fills itself with a sibilant percussion that empties your head of words...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think this book is entitled Prodigal Summer? In what ways do all of the characters display "prodigal" characteristics? Who, or what, welcomes them home from their journeys?

  2. Deanna is the self-appointed protector of coyotes and all predators. Is she disturbing nature's own ways of dealing with upsets? What about Garnett and his quest for a blight-free chestnut tree -- is this "good" for nature?

  3. How does the relationship between Deanna and Eddie Bondo change them both? Should Deanna have told Eddie about the pregnancy? Do you think he already knew and that was one of the reasons he left when he did?

  4. When Nannie and Garnett hug, a huge barrier between them drops and they both gain a basic understanding of each other's...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Newsweek

A warm, intricately constructed book shot through with an extraordinary amount of insight and information about the wonders of the invisible world.

US Magazine

Kingsolver deftly addresses the struggle between mankind and nature ... A lush ... novel of love and loss in Appalachia.

Wall Street Journal

Ms. Kingsolver's writing is generously well-grafted; choice moments ... radiate from nearly every page.

Glamour Magazine

Compelling ... Lives that are less simple, and far more passionate, than they appear.

Christian Science Monitor

Prodigal Summer is full of ... tenderness, humour and earthy spirituality ... Kingsolver's dialogue is absolutely natural, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Creative Loafing

... a story of the many ways to define family -- human or not ... full of joy, warmth, and sweet surprise.

San Francisco Chronicle

A blend of breathtaking artistry, encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world ... and ardent commitment to the supremacy of nature.

New York Times Book Review

[An] extravagantly gifted narrative voice.

Time

Kingsolver is a gifted magician of words.

Orlando Sentinel

A triumphant return to the southern Appalachians of her own childhood.

People Magazine

[Kingslover's] sexy, lyrical fifth novel renders our solitary yearnings with a finely trained eye and ear.

Buffalo News

As lush, rich and abundant as nature itself ... Prodigal Summer is quietly breathtaking, and its vista awe-inspiring.

Reader Reviews

Pam

Today I finished reading Prodigal Summer and I feel like I want to tell Barbara Kingsolver just how much I enjoyed her novel. All 3 stories were so wonderful, the characters so interesting and I spent 3 nights reading very late to find out just what...   Read More

Tina

I just finished this book and really hated to see it end, I cried at what Jewel wanted to say to her children. I am very moved at how this book made me think of the fragile part all of the inhabiants on earth play in this dance called life. ...   Read More

Carl D. Esbjornson

People and the land. Barbara Kingsolver's great achievement in Prodigal Summer is to render this relationship between the complicated lives of the main characters and the natural world with a kind of unforced seamlessness that avoids didacticism, ...   Read More

Rich Alan

An excellent book with vivid descriptions that leap from the pages. What appear to be three separate stories of love and sensuality - encompassing three generations (the young, middle aged and "senior" citizens), we find are actually ...   Read More

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