A New York Times Bestseller
Named one of the Best Books of the Year (2018) by NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek
The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.
How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.
In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Barbara Kingsolver proves her profound gift for weaving together themes of family, community, and place. When Willa Knox’s life is rocked by events beyond her control, she finds escape by investigating the historical occupant of her home: a 19th-century science teacher who provoked controversy with his interest in the theory of evolution. With her trademark attentiveness to human preoccupations both vast and small, Kingsolver crafts a sensitive and morally challenging story of two families separated by a century, but connected by the struggle to make sense of a world they thought they knew.
Kingsolver's meticulously observed, elegantly structured novel unites social commentary with gripping storytelling. Its two intertwined narratives are set in Vineland, a real New Jersey town built as a utopian community in the 1860s. In the first storyline, set in the present, the magazine Willa Knox edited and the college at which her husband, Iano Tavoularis, taught both fold at the same time. They find themselves responsible for Iano's ailing father and their single son's new baby. They hope the house they have inherited in Vineland will help rebuild their finances, but riddled with structural problems too costly to repair it slowly collapses around them. Destitute after decades of striving and stunned by the racist presidential candidate upending America's ideals, the couple feels bewildered by the future facing them. Researching the home's past in the hopes of finding grant-worthy historical significance, Willa becomes fascinated by science teacher Thatcher Greenwood and his neighbor, naturalist Mary Treat, one of whom may have lived on the property in the 1870s. In the second story line, which alternates with Willa's, Thatcher's home is unsound and irreparable, too. His deepening bond with Mary inspires him, but his support for radical ideas like those of Mary's correspondent Charles Darwin infuriates Vineland's repressive leadership, threatening Thatcher's job and marriage. Kingsolver (Flight Behavior) artfully interweaves fictional and historical figures (notably the remarkable Mary Treat) and gives each narrative its own mood and voice without compromising their underlying unity. Containing both a rich story and a provocative depiction of times that shake the shelter of familiar beliefs, this novel shows Kingsolver at the top of her game.
Customer ReviewsSee All
First chapter draws you in - occasional clever wit but wonderfully realistic description of human relationships. Of grief, longing. I want to continue with these people, learn how they cope with unavoidable change.
Excuse for a liberal rant, which would have been okay if plot made sense and characters were appealing. Rare miss by Ms. Kingsolver, whose previous books I have admired.
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