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H Is for Hawk

Cover of H Is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk

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When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer captivated by hawks since childhood, she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators: the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T. H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel's world. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity.

By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement, a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H Is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.

When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer captivated by hawks since childhood, she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators: the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T. H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel's world. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity.

By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement, a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H Is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.

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About the Author-
  • Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, and naturalist, as well as an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. She also worked as a research fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. As a professional falconer, she assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Helen Macdonald has written a spectacular memoir full of wildness and grief, recounting her training of a goshawk in the wake of her father's unexpected death. She is also a marvelous narrator, evoking the open spaces of her Cambridge fields, the natural violence of a goshawk's existence, and her crippling fear of mingling with society when she is so bereft. It is all there in her voice, along with a crisp English accent that is such a pleasure to listen to. Macdonald intertwines her training of Mabel, the goshawk, with the miserable failure of T.H. White to tame a goshawk long before he penned THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, which made him famous. She slightly lowers her voice to distinguish White's story from her own journey out of sorrowful madness into a hopeful future. A.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 27, 2014
    In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing, an English academic finds that training a young goshawk helps her through her grief over the death of her father. With her three-year fellowship at the University of Cambridge nearly over, Macdonald, a trained falconer, rediscovers a favorite book of her childhood, T.H. White's The Goshawk (1951), in which White, author of The Once and Future King, recounts his mostly failed but illuminating attempts at training a goshawk, one of the most magnificent and deadly raptors. Macdonald secures her own goshawk, which she names Mabel, and the fierce wildness of the young bird soothes her sense of being broken by her father's untimely death. The book moves from White's frustration at training his bird to Macdonald's sure, deliberate efforts to get Mabel to fly to her. She identifies so strongly with her goshawk that she feels at one with the creature. Macdonald writes, "I shared, too, desire to escape to the wild, a desire that can rip away all human softness and leave you stranded in a world of savage, courteous despair." The author plunges into the archaic terminology of falconry and examines its alleged gendered biases; she finds comfort in the "invisibility" of being the trainer, a role she undertook as a child obsessed with watching birds and animals in nature. Macdonald describes in beautiful, thoughtful prose how she comes to terms with death in new and startling ways as a result of her experiences with the goshawk.

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H Is for Hawk
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