In this travel memoir, the acclaimed novelist Jamaica Kincaid chronicles a three-week trek through Nepal, the spectacular and exotic Himalayan land, where she and her companions are gathering seeds for planting at home. The natural world and, in particular, plants and gardening are central to Kincaid’s work; in addition to such novels as Annie John and Lucy, Kincaid is the author of My Garden (Book): a collection of essays about her love of cultivating plants and gardens throughout her life. Among Flowers intertwines meditations on nature and stunning descriptions of the Himalayan landscape with observations on the ironies, difficulties, and dangers of this magnificent journey.
For Kincaid and three botanist friends, Nepal is a paradise, a place where a single day’s hike can traverse climate zones, from subtropical to alpine, encompassing flora suitable for growing at their homes, from Wales to Vermont. Yet as she makes clear, there is far more to this foreign world than rhododendrons that grow thirty feet high. Danger, too, is a constant companion—and the leeches are the least of the worries. Unpredictable Maoist guerillas live in these perilous mountains, and when they do appear—as they do more than once—their enigmatic presence lingers long after they have melted back into the landscape. And Kincaid, who writes of the looming, lasting effects of colonialism in her works, necessarily explores the irony of her status as memsahib with Sherpas and bearers.
A wonderful blend of introspective insight and beautifully rendered description, Among Flowers is a vivid, engrossing, and characteristically frank memoir from one of our most striking voices.
Novelist Kincaid tells of her journey into the foothills of the Himalayas in search of rare plants to bring home to her Vermont garden. Much of the book feels repetitive, in an almost meditative way, as the author uses plain yet lyrical language to record the quotidian details of life in the wilderness. For Kincaid, everything on this trip eating, sleeping, bathing requires more effort than usual and sometimes even instills anxiety. Kincaid's details of meals and sleepless nights do grow tedious, and it isn't clear if the author is glad she decided to accompany her botanist friends on their trek, considering the constant threat of leeches and, much worse, the not unlikely (as she portrays it) possibility of losing her life at the hands of anti-American Maoist guerrillas ("Nothing could be more disturbing than sleeping in a village under the control of people who may or may not let you live"). Kincaid's fear never abates: "At some point I stopped making a distinction between the Maoists and the leeches." Occasionally, however, she is overcome with the beauty of the night sky, pilgrim destinations such as a sacred lake in Topke Gola, or the abundant flora, particularly "rhododendrons that were not shrubs, but trees thirty feet tall." This book is as much about a place as it is about overcoming fears and embracing the unfamiliar. Photos.