Weaving Fact With Fiction

Prodigal Summer I’m always inspired by the way Barbara Kingsolver weaves scientific facts into her novels without bogging down the story. A less skilled writer would risk sounding heavy-handed or preachy but she does it masterfully. When I finish reading one of her books I always feel I’ve learned something without having had to slog through a science journal. It probably helps that we share some of the same passions, but still…

The environment and all its creatures are featured in Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer which I’m currently reading. This conversation between a woman and a child explains, very simply, the devastation of clear-cutting a forest.

“You could cut down all these trees and make a pile of money.”
“I could,” Lusa said. “Then I’d have a pile of money and no trees.”
“So? Who needs trees?”
“About nineteen million bugs, for starters. They live in the leaves, under the bark, everywhere. Just close your eyes and point, and you’re pointing at a bug.”
“So? Who needs nineteen million bugs?”
“Nineteen thousand birds that eat them.”
“So? Who needs birds?”
“I do. You do…… not to mention, the rain would run straight down the mountain and take all the topsoil off my fields. The creek would be pure mud. This place would be a dead place.”
Crys shrugged. “Trees grow back.”
“That’s what you think. This forest took hundreds of years to get like this.”
“Like what?”
“Just how it is, a whole complicated thing with parts that all need each other, like a living body. It’s not just trees; it’s different kinds of trees, all different sizes, in the right proportions. Every animal needs its own special plant to live on. And certain plants will only grow next to certain other kinds, did you know that?”

And a reminder of why organic farming is important, one of her characters says…

“Most people lived so far from it (farming) they thought you could just choose, carnivore or vegetarian, without knowing that the chemicals on grain and cotton killed far more butterflies and bees and bluebirds and whippoorwills than the mortal cost of a steak or a leather jacket. Just clearing the land to grow soybeans and corn had killed about everything on half the world. Every cup of coffee equalled one dead songbird in the jungle somewhere, she’s read.”

Above all, Kingsolver is a brilliant storyteller, yet it’s satisfying to learn so much and be reminded of important issues through her characters and their lives.

2 thoughts on “Weaving Fact With Fiction

  1. Louisa Cameron

    Makes me never want to drink a cup of coffee again. Or buy “songbird safe” coffee, which I’ve seen in some stores. Think I’ll make the effort to search it out again. Thanks Shelley!

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