“Book Review: Late Migrations”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
A book that feels like home.
Told in magnificent and brief essays, Late Migrations gives readers vivid glimpses into the life of Margaret Renkl and the world around her. These essays tell stories of her family, the land they come from, and the way she’s lived because of each circumstance. Paired with beautiful illustrations from her brother Billy, this book will catch you flipping pages, confident that what you’ll find next will be as special as what came before it.
This book features strong women backed by unyielding family values, carrying with them a formidable backbone as the author narrates her way through childhood and adulthood. There are tales and observations on loss, new life, sorrow, and elation told through ordinary, everyday scenes from her life. Renkl holds up a microscope to her small and sacred memories to make life tangible and unputdownable in the essays in Late Migrations.
“The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten.”
In these short essays, Renkl zooms in on something ordinary, a tree, a bird, her own front yard, and she conjures a sincere, unique, and perfectly natural metaphor about community, growth, and more. She does the same careful observing with her family as she digs out stories from her childhood in Alabama. And you never have to live in Alabama or be around nature in order to understand what she means. These essays can resonate with anyone who’s ever stopped to take a second look at anything.
One of my favorite essays, “Secret,” tells the story of a tree. When split open by a storm, the tree reveals a hollow center, home to thousands of bees. Renkl weaves together the story of humans with nature and somehow, nature with humans, too. It’s original and stunning and everything I look for in an essay. She thrives with this essay and many others, including, “Honeymoon,” about one of the first times she recognizes her parents as real people.
With most books I love, I yearn for more of the author’s work. And though I wish this book could have continued forever, I never finished an essay and felt like it needed anything else. Each essay—even those that last only a single page—is so thoughtful and lasting, providing a lingering contemplation of what I’ve learned and how it’s going to change me.
“My favorite season is spring–until fall arrives, and then my favorite season is fall: the seasons of change, the seasons that tell me to wake up, to remember that every passing moment of every careening day is always the last moment….”
When I read this book again—next week maybe?—I plan to take it day by day. I can see no better way to start my morning than by reading one of these essays before gearing up to go back into the world. It is a fantastic reminder to be present and grateful for everything that’s happened already and that will happen again in the future.
If you haven’t assumed already, I love this book, and I really think you would too. Renkl just gets it. You’ll be excited to share Late Migrations with other people, but beware, you’ll probably be too afraid to let them borrow it for fear of not getting it back.
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
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