Orwell’s Roses

Viking. Oct. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780593083369. $28. LIT
In this biographical study, prolific writer and critic Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking) offers a different, refreshing, and unexpected take on George Orwell (1903–50). The book begins with the line “In the Spring of 1936 a writer planted roses.” She uses this same sentence, with slight variations, throughout the biography, each time contrasting Orwell’s passion for gardening with the upheaval of the world around him (economic depression, the Spanish Civil War, the German blitz in World War II). Drawing deeply from Orwell’s novels, essays, and diaries, she discovers a man who was curious about the natural world. Solnit highlights Orwell’s writing ethos and marvels at his output of domestic essays near the end of his life, while he was also writing 1984. She rereads that novel and was struck by “how much lushness and beauty and pleasure” are in the book. The biography is also peppered with discussions of current political events and environmental crises. Solnit concludes with thoughts on Orwell’s legacy and the overuse of the term “Orwellian.”
VERDICT Readers of Orwell will find, or rediscover, much material here that will expand their perception of the man. This is a worthy addition to the ever-growing corpus of Orwell studies.
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