It was a complete surprise to me that I could be so absorbed by a book about birds of prey. The premise intrigued me from the start when I first heard about H is for Hawk. My curiosity was piqued further when I had the opportunity to witness a bird show at a falconry in the Drakensberg Mountains on a recent trip to South Africa. This wildlife demonstration was so impressive. We learned about hawks, eagles and falcons and got a good sense of how much skill, effort and dedication goes into the training of these magnificent birds. So when I got back home I dived right into this book, and I’m so glad I did.
Helen Macdonald, grief stricken by the death of her father, takes up the biggest challenge of her life–training a goshawk, one of the most fierce and murderous of the raptors. Lots of people walk off their grief on pilgrimages, carry their burdens up mountains, or throw themselves into creating new charities in an attempt to gain some meaning and healing from searing loss. But the irony of turning to a bloodthirsty creature instinctively focused on killing and death in the midst of coming to grips with mortality, was not lost on me. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but found myself mesmerized by Macdonald’s true story, so beautifully written, so evocative, honest and compelling.
Another wonderful part of Macdonald’s spiritual journey in training the goshawk she called Mabel, is the parallel journey she describes of author T.H. White who wrote ‘The Sword in the Stone‘ and other Arthurian chronicles. He was a solitary and troubled soul and did not lead an easy life. He wrote a book about training his own goshawk and Macdonald weaves in comparisons from his journey and biography very eloquently. Lovers of nature and humanity will resonate with this award winning non-fiction which already feels like it will be destined to become a modern classic.