Coffee and a Book: “H Is for Hawk”

imageReading this book was probably inevitable for me since it combines two of my favorite book genres: personal memoir and nature. While the chances of me liking it were high, it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in the past 20 years. An experienced falconer and Cambridge research scholar, Helen Macdonald is devastated by the death of her father and turns to training Mabel – a goshawk, one of nature’s most vicious predators – as a way of coping with her loss. She looks for inspiration and advice by re-reading author T.H. White’s falconry chronicle The Goshawk, a book she had read when younger – and learns new lessons from his story. As she absorbs White’s slim, harrowing book (a classic nature memoir in its own right) and faces up to the enormous challenge of training Mabel, Helen learns much about what it means to be wild, what it means to be human, and the risky moments when the two can briefly intertwine. It’s a tough, exquisitely written book, charged with humor and pain – never weepy or sentimental. At times, it is chilling. “I love Mabel,” she writes at one point, “but what passes between us is not human.”

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