I have just finished the most amazing book.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a stunning nature memoir.
It covers Aimee’s life from childhood and young adulthood; and her life as a married mother of two, as well as her parents at various stages of their lives. Themes of racism, colourism and feminism are also touched on. It intertwines nature writing with memoir – each chapter linking a plant or animal to Aimee’s life experience. Aimee is an American born woman of colour – her mother is Filipino and her father is South Indian.
My favourite chapters were:
- Catalpa tree – where Aimee writes about her sister and her visiting her mother at a hospital after school – her mother worked as doctor, and the hospital’s grounds were shaded by Catalpa trees. The way she looks up to her accomplished mother was beautiful; and I see this balance of work accomplishments and motherhood carried on in Aimee’s life as an academic and writer and mother.
- Calendars Poetica – minutiae of Aimee’s first year as a mother and a writer, living in New York.
- Corpse Flower – Aimee writes so vividly about the smell, appearance, feel and temperature of the Corpse Flower.
- Flamingo – which talks about Aimee and her university friends dancing at nightclubs; violent and predatory men, as well as the brutal murder of a flamingo at a zoo.
- Questions While Searching for Birds with My Half-White Sons, Aged Six and Nine – as the chapter title suggests, this chapter lists the curious questions Aimee’s sons have asked her during bird searching. They range from questions about the birds, to worldly questions about scary school lockdowns and racism.
- Superb Bird of Paradise – where Aimee writes about the male bird of paradise “clearing the dance floor” and also writes of her own wedding, which was a sea of saris. She writes about the Macarena bringing the guests together.
- Southern Cassowary – which references Cassowaries in Australia.
But honestly, all chapters are incredible. She has an innate ability to describe nature in a way that makes you as a reader feel you’re there watching the plant grow, or looking at an animal in a zoo or aquarium or in the wild. It’s so poetic and clever.
I’ve been reading it for a month or so – can’t bring myself to rush it as I want to savour it. I didn’t want it to end.
I listened to the audiobook, read by Aimee. She has a beautiful voice. I have bought the hardcopy of the book as I want to flick through it for the illustrations by Fumi Nakamura, and to read again.
This book is what we need right now. It is so beautiful and hopeful – a reminder of love, family, renewal and purpose – all with the central theme of taking joy from nature.