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Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

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A lush exploration of politics, roses, and pleasure, and a fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener whose political writing was grounded by his passion for the natural world.

“In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” So be-gins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and on the intertwined politics of nature and power.

Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the roses he reportedly planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this overlooked aspect of Orwell’s life journeys through his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left) to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism.

Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers are drawn onward from Orwell‘s own work as a writer and gardener to encounter photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her politics, agriculture and illusion in the USSR of his time with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s examination of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes Solnit’s portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as offering a meditation on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.


“I loved this book, and so will many. . . [Orwell] is re-envisioned as a joyous, hopeful, life-loving, toad-appreciating, baby-cherishing dad, but especially as an avid and energetic gardener . . . an exhilarating romp through Orwell’s life and times and also through the life and times of roses.”Margaret Atwood

“[A] tribute by one fine essayist of the political left to another of an earlier generation . . . the great pleasure of reading [Solnit] is spending time with her mind, its digressions and juxtapositions, its unexpected connections . . . a captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker . . . movingly, [Solnit]  takes the time to find the traces of Orwell the gardener and lover of beauty in his pollical novels, and in his insistence on the value and pleasure of things.”Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine

“[A] wide-ranging yet disciplined sequence of essays on the importance of joy in Orwell’s concept of freedom . . . Solnit seeks to show us that Orwell was [...] capable of taking great joy in small things . . . and such pleasure was intrinsic to his political vision . . . like Orwell as essayist, Solnit  deploys the full human instrument in service of her curiosity . . . She just creates a frame large enough to contain both revolutionary brilliance and unwitting reactionary associations in the same person—large enough to contain life’s contradictions in a way that only the essay, that humble literary mouthpiece, can.”The New York Times Book Review

“[A] far-reaching meditation on Orwell’s life and on the cultural significance of roses . . . Most affecting is the surprising hopefulness implicit in a political writer’s passion for nature: ‘Orwell did not believe in permanent happiness or the politics that tried to realize it, but he did believe devoutly in moments of delight, even rapture.’”
The New Yorker

Hardcover edition
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0593083369
Pages: 320