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Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth
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Last of the Curlews

by Fred Bodsworth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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    The Peregrine Falcon by Robert Murphy (Sandydog1)
    Sandydog1: Both contain fictionalized life stories.
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The Eskimo Curlew once migrated in vast flocks from South America to the Arctic, it was a popular game bird for its ease in shooting and its superior numbers. Its numbers rapidly deteriorated in the late 19th century and at the time of Bodsworth's writing this novel there were years between sightings and then the bird was alone.

The novel is from the perspective of a male curlew and begins with him defending a territory against other similar birds and waiting for anther of his kind to appear. Unlike many nature books little attempt is made to humanize him. He acts from instinct. He waits. At the end of the season he makes the difficult migration south, traveling with other migratory birds, but always seeking a female. Chapters are bookended with newspaper and journal accounts chronologically covering the Eskimo Curlew's decline and the evolutionary reasons the Eskimo Curlew was so ill-adapted to fleeing gunfire. This is a sad story and there is no wriggle room: this is our fault.

I had an illustration from this book framed and hung on my wall as a kid. My mother had copied it for an art class when she was in middle school, its a solitary bird looking out over an empty field. It wasn't until recently I found this book at a library book sale but I was reluctant to open the flood gates. It wasn't until the last weekend before my wedding I decided to get some books off my list - this is a tiny novel, but hard to get through emotionally. my fiancee came home to be crying my eyes out on the bed. With that hearty recommendation I'll also add the book is a must-read for those interested in protecting endangered species and a classic of nature writing. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
A very good anthromorphozation of a vanishing (vanished ?) bird. ( )
  JNSelko | Jun 15, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fred Bodsworthprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gell-Mann, MurrayAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merwin, W. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rorer, AbigailIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 077109874X, Mass Market Paperback)

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the "plain, succinct evocation and beauty" of Fred Bodsworth's writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher. This is a quick, elegant, devastating read. The Eskimo curlew was a species of shorebird that migrated (and perhaps, in extremely small numbers, still migrates) south from arctic Canada every fall, in a flight that took it eastward across Canada, and then, after feeding, south over the Atlantic to South America--this latter journey nearly 2,500 miles of nonstop flight. The curlew was almost unique among shorebirds for its ability to make this grueling passage.

Bodsworth, a respected ornithologist, makes us care about his fictional bird protagonist--a lone curlew in search of a mate--while still cautiously riding the line between description and anthropomorphism. Of his curlew preparing for a mate, he writes: "He waited within the borders of his territory, flying in tightening circles and calling excitedly as the other bird came nearer. The female was coming. The three empty summers that the male had waited vainly and alone on his breeding territory were a vague, tormenting memory, now almost lost in a brain so keenly keyed to instinctive responses that there was little capacity for conscious thought or memory."

The demise of this species at the hands of hunters and hungry consumers was so rapid and thorough that the "millions that darkened the sky" in Newfoundland in the 1870s during their annual migration were reduced to only a few lone fliers by the 1890s. An afterword by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann and line drawings by Abigail Rorer add context to this remarkable book. --Maria Dolan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:42 -0400)

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