Monday, November 12, 2012

Barbara Kingsolver's new novel is about rural perceptions of changes in climate and nature

Author Barbara Kingsolver, right, is taking on climate change in her most recent novel, Flight Behavior. She recently spoke with NPR's Flora Lichtman about the book and what Lichtman calls its central philosophical question: "Why do we believe what we believe and how is it that two people can look at the exact same set of circumstances and see two completely different things?"

The novel is set on a farm in Southern Appalachia, Kingsolver's home region, where a shift in climate has caused monarch butterflies to settle for the first time. The butterflies normally winter in Mexico, but because of climate change, their pattern has brought them to a hilltop farm in East Tennessee. Journalists, scientists and other outsiders call the event a drastic effect of climate change, but people in the rural, conservative town see it as a miracle from God.

"It's a novel in which I use this device [the monarchs] to talk about climate change, about the methods of science, because that's a really big part of this novel," Kingsolver told Lichtman. "It's really about . . . why we decide to believe what we believe and why it's so difficult for us to have this conversation about climate change."

The story is told through the eyes of a farmer's wife, who discovers the butterflies first and sees them as her personal "burning bush" sign from God. Kingsolver told Lichtman she wanted to write the novel through the wife's eyes so the reader would not initially know what they were seeing, either. "It is about perception and how we need to be to understand what we're seeing before we can really see it," said Kingsolver, who has a master's degree in evolutionary biology. "That's really key to understanding this whole issue of climate change and why we see or don't see what's right in front of us." (Read more)

UPDATE: Roberta Rubinstein writes in the Washington Independent Review of Books, "The novel keeps readers wondering until the narrative reaches its satisfying resolution. Flight Behavior may not be Kingsolver’s best — I reserve that position for The Poisonwood Bible — but it is an absorbing read, positioned at the cusp of contemporary concerns about environmental change and its impact on the human domain." (Read more)

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