H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
A young friend recently recommended Helen Macdonald’s 2014 memoir, H is For Hawk. Not surprisingly after I finished the book, I learned it had been on The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2015.
On the surface, the book is equal parts autobiographical, naturalist essay, and a how- to for training birds of prey. Unmoored by her beloved father’s unexpected death, Macdonald, middle-aged, single, childless and soon to be let go from her teaching duties at Cambridge, returns to her childhood fascination of falconry. She buys a young Goshawk and methodically disengages from her conventional life and immerses herself in Mabel’s training. Macdonald (a history and English professor) cleverly intertwines the true story of author of The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White, himself a novice falconer and deeply tormented character of the early 20th century. But, aside from beautiful, descriptive prose, it is Macdonald’s ability to convey on paper the almost magical moment of making an emotional connection with a wild or feral animal. Truly, anyone who has been lucky enough to have had that opportunity will remember it for the rest of their life. It was her description of that delicate give and take in almost infinitesimal measures that rendered me a true fan of her writing. A captivating read.
Review by Sarah Ehrenson