H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

Overview: When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer's eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

Faith Bowers (11/14/15): This is a memoir of a very difficult time in Ms. Macdonald's life. The writing is exquisite in the accounts of raising a goshawk to help her through the grief of losing her father suddenly, her critique of TH White's chronicle The Goshawk and the history of her father from her perspective.

It is not the first memoir I have read of losing one's self in grieving. Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking documenting the grief of losing her husband. I think you have to be an amazing writer to be able to document your grief in a way that others would want to read. The stories of Mabel and Helen's adventures in killing and being in a hawk's life are very detailed descriptions. She foreshadows many of the mistakes she makes in these forays into her wild.

I especially enjoyed her comparing hunting and falconry in the US vs the UK. I also loved her values of nature even if she is a master falconer. Major differences in dealing with grief that I noticed was that she isolates herself until she gets better with just a few friends in her support system. Also the memorial service for her father seemed to be months after his death, if not a year. I don't think this helped Ms. Macdonald in her grief. I really enjoyed each page.
Rating: *****

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