In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island
by Lucinda Fleeson
Fleeson leaves behind her dissatisfying life in Philadelphia as a news reporter and goes to the relatively remote Hawaiian island Kauai to work as a fundraiser for a large botanical garden. I thought the book was going to be all about her work with plants, and how native Hawaiian plants are threatened with extinction and fast disappearing. I was intrigued by stories of the history of the island's plants, of the work of dedicated botanists who brought some back from the brink (although my husband said when he heard what I was reading: who cares if a few plants disappear? animals always get the attention, don't they! but their lives are intricately tied together, I believe. Did you know- blunt aside- there is a tree -in Africa I think- with huge, heavy thick-skinned fruits no animal can break open; scientists assume it must have been eaten by ancient giant creatures now extinct- prehistoric mammals or dinosaurs. Sorry, I can't remember where I read this now or which tree it is). But Waking Up in Eden is a jumble of subjects. It's also about the author's personal life, her struggles to get accepted by the Gardens staff, her fascination with unconventional (for their times) people who came to live on the island: the wealthy gay couple who owned the Gardens land before and built themselves a paradise there; a solitary woman from the 1800's who traveled the globe including Kauai, writing extensive descriptions about the island. I liked the island history parts but found I wasn't interested in the constant snubs Fleeson suffered from her co-workers, or her fling with the local hottie, or her digging to find out all about the gay men: what intolerance they fled in 1920's Chicago, where their money came from, how they got accepted by the island community, etc; or even her travels across the island following the footsteps of Isabella Bird. It felt like there were chapters and chapters about this stuff and I just wanted to get back to the plants. If several of those subjects sound interesting, you might well like this book! but for me, I was expecting something a bit more focused.
I was so disappointed. I really wanted to enjoy this book (which I found on a display shelf at the library). I actually made it two-thirds of the way through before realizing I my mind was wandering. I flipped through the rest of the pages to see if there were any more plant parts I wanted to read, but even the bit about where she finally visits the gardens of a reclusive man who grows only Hawaiian natives on his property and lets no one visit, failed to interest me anymore. Sad.
I did bring out of its pages the titles of more books I want to read now! A Country Year by Sue Hubbell, A Dreamer's Log Cabin by Laurie Shepherd. I was dismayed by Fleeson's discoveries of unpleasant truths about May Sarton's life, an author I've admired, but I'm adding her Plant Dreaming Deep to my list nevertheless.
Abandoned ....... 310 pages, 2009
More opinions at:
Devourer of Books
The Scott Arboretum
Hawaii Beach Girl