Friday, February 1, 2019

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

On August 14, 2018, Delia Owens published her debut novel.  There are several unusual features about this novel, one of which is that the author is approaching 70, it is a best seller, and will soon be made into a motion picture.  I am tempted to write that you have to read this book, but that is patently ridiculous. Of course, you don’t have to read this book, but those who do not will miss the opportunity of experiencing a wonderful character-driven story.  Those of you who loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer will recognize a certain similarity of the rich descriptive writing of the world of plants and animals.

Delia Owens was born in 1949? in Thomasville, Georgia. As a child, she reflected her mother’s interest in nature. Her family spent summers in the Low Country of North Carolina exploring tiny seaside villages amidst the waterways and marshes, a place her mother called “Where the crawdads sing”.  Delia obtained a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Georgia. While there, she met and married Mark Owens. Delia went on to obtain a doctorate in Animal Behavior from U.C.L.A. Davis.

Delia and Mark traveled to Botswana, where they spent seven years virtually alone studying lions and hyenas. They then moved to Zambia helping to stop the slaughter of elephants. During this time, they observed a similarity in the behavior of lions and elephants in that the females stayed together in nurturing and protecting the young. Mark flew his small aircraft alone, searching for poachers leaving Delia in worried isolation.

After twenty-three years in Africa, they published three non-fiction books. The Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and The Secrets of the Savanna.  Mark and Delia purchased a 500-acre ranch in northern Idaho, where they worked for the Fish and Game Department to save endangered grizzly bears. While living in Idaho, Delia recalled the summers she spent in the Carolina Low Country and decided to write what would be her first novel. She wanted to write about someone who lived in isolation as she did, a study in human nature.

The novel takes place in the 1950s and 1960s in the Carolina Low Country. Kya, a six-year-old girl, is deserted by her mother and then abandoned by her father and six siblings to survive by herself in the marsh. Shunned by the villagers as a “swamp rat”, she retreats into the marsh where Nature provides refuge and sustenance. As she matures into womanhood, she experiences love, rejection, and is tried for first-degree murder. I’m betting that many book groups will select this novel.