Torrey House. Mar. 2020. 342p. ISBN 9781948814164. $18.95.
Gaines’s second novel (after Carbon Dreams) explores Uruguay’s complicated environmental and political issues, past and present, through the lens of a single extended family. In 1999, when American-born Gabriel and his immigrant mother, Lili, return to her native land, the forthcoming election dominates most conversations and uncovers long-standing tensions and secrets among his mother’s siblings. As Lili settles into transforming the family ranch into an organic farm, amateur birder Gabe explores the nearby marshes, encountering a rich biodiversity. Gaines skillfully describes this natural world, highlighting new avian species. Gabe’s ventures thrust him into a familial debate about sustainable farming practices. Meanwhile, with the aid of Alejandra, a local microbiologist, he is introduced to the fascinating world of microbes and his first significant love affair. As this relationship unfolds, so do complications from the past intermingling of the lovers’ two families. Gaines’s characters are multidimensional though far from perfect human beings, and the passionate, vibrant descriptions of Uruguay’s natural and political landscapes makes for a compelling read.
VERDICT Well-written novels that feature science (but aren’t sf) are few and far between, and this work is a welcome addition next to Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer or Flight Behavior.
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