Reviews for Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

by Margaret Renkl

Library Journal
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Renkl, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, has written a lyrical memoir entwined with the natural history surrounding her childhood home in rural Alabama and her current suburban Nashville residence. In short chapters, the author shares stories along with memories recounted by her family, notably the fire that claimed her grandparents' home. Included in these anecdotes are tales of births and deaths, coming-of-age and following your dreams, caretaking and the importance of home. As a child, Renkl and her siblings would explore the world around them, and this fascination with nature continues into her adulthood. A keen observer of the natural world she so clearly loves and seeks to understand, Renkl tells of housing bluebird families, raising monarch caterpillars, the sadness of death in nature, and the chipmunks and squirrels with whom she currently shares her home. VERDICT A captivating, beautifully written story of growing up, love, loss, living, and a close extended family by a talented nature writer and memoirist that will appeal to those who enjoy introspective memoirs and the natural world close to home.—Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove, IL

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Renkl spent her childhood in the deep South, bathed in family love and lore. Telling stories is in her bones, but those stories are just one part of this unusual book. Dated passages function like bits of memoir, snippets of her life: recalling romantic love, her mother's depression, her father's cancer, her own health scares. Those parts will wholly please readers, but Renkl is also a fine observer of the natural world. Drawing comparisons to Annie Dillard, the author's present-day, postage-stamp ruminations focus on orb weaver spiders and the necessary milkweed-and-monarch symbiosis. When Renkl experiences a solar eclipse, she references Dillard's famous essay about when the world seemed to both freeze and go mad all at once. Reinkl deftly juggles the two disparate threads of narrative, all of which is shot through with deep wonder and a profound sense of loss. It is a fine feat, this book. Renkl intimately knows that ""this life thrives on death"" and chooses to sing the glory of being alive all the same.--Joan Curbow Copyright 2019 Booklist

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Lyrical reflections on the relentless cycle of birth and death by Nashville-based New York Times contributing opinion writer Renkl.In this unusual and poignant memoir, the author, editor of the online literary journal Chapter 16, alternates in short chapters between her current life as a happily married mother of grown children living in Nashville, Tennessee, and her years growing up in rural Alabama surrounded by a loving extended family. Her narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature, especially the lives of wild birds she observes from her home office as they devote their brief lives to making nests for and feeding the young only to be, in many cases, fodder for larger prey that must nourish their own fledglings. Renkl's mother, Olivia, was born in lower Alabama in 1931; married a Catholic man"my grandfather had never laid eyes on a Catholic before he met his future son-in-law"and gave birth to the author in 1961. Renkl was so anticipated and adored by the family that in pictures, "they are looking at me as if I were the sun, as if they had been cold every day of their lives until now." As a child, the author remembers her mother often despondent, stricken by postpartum depression. The family moved to Birmingham in 1968, during the turbulent civil rights era, yet Renkl was sheltered from the greater troubles within the bosom of her family. In 1984, the author attempted a semester of graduate school in Philadelphia, but she was so traumatized by the noise and dislocation that she quickly returned to the South and attended school in South Carolina. Renkl describes the deaths of many of her elders (and her sometimes-onerous role as their late-life caretaker), but the strength of her narrative is in the descriptions of nature in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures "the splendor of decay." Interspersed with the chapters are appealing nature illustrations by the author's brother.A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
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In this magnificent debut, essayist Renkl interweaves the natural world of her backyard in Nashville with memories of her childhood and family members. A poetic storyteller, Renkl captures the essence of the moments that shape and haunt her (“The seasons... tell me to wake up, to remember that every passing moment of every careening day is... the only instant I will ever take that precise breath”). She writes of her bungled attempts to stay focused on college amid desperate homesickness, and, later in life, dealing with the illnesses of grandparents as they got older, raising her children and watching them grow, and going through the heart-wrenching farewells to her parents at their deaths. These vignettes are interspersed with her close inspection of and affinity with the birds, bugs, and butterflies in her garden (she contemplates “the full-body embrace of bumblebees in the milkweed flowers, the first dance of the newlyweds”). Renkl instructs that even amid life’s most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration (“darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine”). Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain. (July)