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The Overstory (2018)

by Richard Powers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,0571185,385 (4.12)295
An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back to life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers - each summoned in different ways by trees - are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of - and paean to - the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe. The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? -- from dust jacket.… (more)
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» See also 295 mentions

English (114)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
I think this book is a bit confusing people because they expect it to be a novel, and it's not. It's a collection of culturally diverse short stories all based on the theme that trees play a part in the cultural and natural history of different ethnicity. I love books with a theme, and it reminds me of Primo Levi's book The Periodic Table, which also was making a political statement. So I think the Pulitzer Prize is well deserved for the author to be able to weave all these different themes into a book. It is a environmental, tree-hugger book in an era where the natural environment and diversity are being attacked politically. There are many parallels between Primo Levi's anti Holocaust works and Richard Powers. Powerful stuff, no pun intended. ( )
  kerryp | Jul 4, 2020 |
This magical, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is difficult to describe, and just as difficult to put down. There is a world alongside ours, the world of the forest where ancient trees communicate with each other. This world is threatened by the greed of the lumber industry and mankind's ignorance. Using the experiences of multiple characters-a scientist, an activist, a hermit, a somewhat loopy student-Powers makes us care about the world of the forest. I hope you read it. ( )
  rglossne | Jul 1, 2020 |
Through beautiful language, overlapping timescales, and events that branch and interweave, Powers tells an epic and heartbreaking tale of interdependence. I found the ending disappointing, but I'm not sure there's an ending that wouldn't be.

There are so many beautiful passages in this novel, a couple of which brought me to tears, and many that feel all too significant right now (fighting powers beyond our control, governments making decisions based on corporate/consumerist pressures rather than on science, the threat of plague and destruction).

One nitpick: Twice Powers falls into the trap of making his female characters overly aware of their breasts, but it's not too ridiculous. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 28, 2020 |
Long, meandering, confusing. Hard to follow all the characters when the story keeps jumping around from one set of characters to the other, but woven through the entire thing is the story of trees and their incredible hidden interactions and our dependence on them. ( )
  BookBuddies | Jun 22, 2020 |
Quite uncertain about this book. I finished it - which required a bit of stamina. Modern novels buck any trend and can be anything but this one seems so driven and obsessive at times that the narration is never relaxed. In addition, it is all tell tell tell - can you not Mr Powers trust the reader to make any inferences or connections for themselves? That said I learned much. But then that is Mr Powers the author in lecture mode. Lots of hectoring, lecturing. But I could be wrong...... ( )
  adrianburke | Jun 17, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
“Literary fiction has largely become co-opted by that belief that meaning is an entirely personal thing,” Powers says. “It’s embraced the idea that life is primarily a struggle of the individual psyche to come to terms with itself. Consequently, it’s become a commodity like a wood chipper, or any other thing that can be rated in terms of utility.” [...]

“I want literature to be something other than it is today,” Powers says. “There was a time when our myths and legends and stories were about something greater than individual well-being. "
added by elenchus | editlithub.com, Kevin Berger (Apr 23, 2018)
 
Acquiring tree consciousness, a precondition for learning how to live here on Earth, means learning what things grow and thrive here, independently of us.

We are phenomenally bad at experiencing, estimating, and conceiving of time. Our brains are shaped to pay attention to rapid movements against stable backgrounds, and we’re almost blind to the slower, broader background drift. The technologies that we have built to defeat time—writing and recording and photographing and filming—can impair our memory (as Socrates feared) and collapse us even more densely into what psychologists call the “specious present,” which seems to get shorter all the time. Plants’ memory and sense of time is utterly alien to us. It’s almost impossible for a person to wrap her head around the idea that there are bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California that have been slowly dying since before humans invented writing.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Powers, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Toren, SuzanneReadermain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alianza de Novelas AdNEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Allié, ManfredÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Audiobooks, Random HousePublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
bierstadt, albertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Books, RecordedPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chauvin, SergeTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
gaffney, evanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guevara, Teresa Lanero Ladrón deTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kempf-Allié, GabrieleÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lanero, TeresaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noorman, JelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vighi, LiciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Earth may be alive: not as the ancients saw her--a sentient Goddess with a purpose and foresight--but alive like a tree. A tree that quietly exists, never moving except to sway in the wind, yet endlessly conversing with the sunlight and soil. Using sunlight and water and nutrient minerals to grow and change. But all done so imperceptibly, that to me an old oak tree on the green is the same as it was when I was a child.
--James Lovelock
Tree . . . he watching you. You look at tree, he listen to you. He got no finger, he can't speak. But that leaf . . . he pumping, growing, growing in the night. While you sleeping you dream something. Tree and grass same thing.
--Bill Neidjie
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For Aida.
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First there was nothing.
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To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs.
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