H is for Hawk

Saying that Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is a book about a bird is like saying Moby Dick is a book about a whale – quite possibly this has been used, for this book or elsewhere, I haven’t actually read any Reviews of H is for Hawk – unless you count this post by Alisa Golden – it got many good ones, and prizes, and is a New York Times Bestseller – and has an awesome cover, for what that’s worth – well, and now that I think of it, I can’t say for sure that I’ve read Moby Dick. Would be hard to believe it wasn’t on some Reading List somewhere in my so-called education, but I don’t have a definitive recollection that I actually made it through, for what that’s worth. Anyhow, I heard about H is for Hawk on NPR, and was intrigued, but at the time the library wait list was several hundred deep and so I just put it on the To Read List. Which, for another reason I looked at recently, the List, that is, and then was in the library, and there was a copy of H is for Hawk. In the bird book section. Non-fiction. 598.944 MACDONALD

So, yes, it is about a bird. A hawk. A goshawk, in particular – Mabel – that Macdonald acquired and trained in the wake of her father’s sudden, untimely death. So, yes, it’s also about that – death and grief – and the running away, and running toward, and how life, eventuallysomehow goes on. Part nature writing, part memoir, plus the story of author T.H. White and his attempts to train a goshawk. Which might sound like a recipe for a big jumbled mishmosh, but it’s not. All the parts make the story and need to be there.

Macdonald’s lucid descriptive style also makes it work. I was definitively hooked on the third page with, “Looking for goshawks is like looking for grace: it comes, but not often, and you don’t get to say when or how.” A few pages later she describes a pair of goshawks she sees, “…they were loving the space between each other, and carving it into all sorts of beautiful concentric chords and distances. A couple of flaps, and the male, the tiercel, would be above the female, and then he’d drift north of her, and then slip down, fast, like a knife-cut, a smooth calligraphic scrawl underneath her, and she’d dip a wing, and then they’d soar up again.”

And so, you go along with her for the journey, through all the struggles she relates, unflinchingly – I can’t even imagine – she’s just a year older than me, if that – crazy-making as my parents can be, they’ve always been there – I know the odds say they will pass before I do, but in one’s head that happens later rather than sooner, when they have lived a long, long life – allowing us to bear witness to her story. It’s quite the privilege to do so.

“Some things happen only once, twice in a lifetime. The world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might be alive to see them.”

This entry was posted in books and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to H is for Hawk

  1. judigoldberg says:

    Q is for questions we wished we would have asked before there was no one left who knew their answers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s