Published By: Granta
Released On: 21/10/2021
“In the year 1936 a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, and the natural world illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.
Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the surviving roses he planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this understudied aspect of Orwell’s life explores his writing and his actions – from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him, to his analysis of the relationship between l and authoritarianism. Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers encounter the photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her Stalinism, Stalin’s obsession with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s critique of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Columbia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes her portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as a reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.
Thanks to Granta for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.
Is there a bibliophile around today who doesn’t admire Orwell’s writing? Either because they love it, or it aids their own reading and writing experience, or it makes them think of things bigger than themselves? Orwell is a much loved author, but this isn’t just another straight forward biography. It is so much more than that. Instead, it is a series of essays, combine Orwell and Solnit’s writing, stemmed from Orwell’s love of gardening – a pleasant activity one wouldn’t necessarily link to the brain who came up with Animal Farm and 1984.
There are some really lovely photo his book that make Orwell seem so…well…normal. Regardless of his opinions, for the majority of his life, he was just like any other young man living through the wars, these photos show there wasn’t necessarily anything obviously special about him.
I didn’t realise just how beautifully things like trees and plants can be written about before this. You get a new appreciation of plant life and what it means to us as a race. It is clear how gardening and Roses have entwined with his experiences with war, politics, mining, and of course, his writing.
You can tell how Orwell’s musings on Roses influenced his popular works, and Solnit adds a perfect amount of commentary, background information, and personal views to compliment his work. You can clearly see her passion when it comes to Orwell’s passion. It does stray to the outskirts of repetitiveness at times, but it never fully goes there, which is a talent on Solnit’s part to sustain such a heavy interest.
This is a relatively short book at just over 270 pages, but it is full of lovely description that brings a more human element to the excellent author, the same as his brilliance adds to him as a humble gardener.