by Anne van Oorschot.
08 October 2020. With the Netherlands adopting stricter Corona rules – 3 guests per household – having our regular book discussion gathering was impossible. Fortunately, there are numerous online meeting platforms that make holding a virtual meeting easy to arrange and attend and I was happy to have a total of 9 attend our evening on October 8th. Two of those who attended were new to our small group and, while they hadn’t read the book, they wanted to get a feel for how our discussion evenings go.
While everyone was positive about the book, the intricacies of Kingsolver’s language, while nice once you got used to it, were initially challenging for those who were non-native English speakers. We saw similarities between the butterflies and Dellarobia, the main character, with her flame colored hair and her sense of being lost in her own life. It was interesting to see her change throughout the book: no more vanity so the needed glasses were always on, stop smoking, venturing out of her comfort zone to work with the scientists and finally taking charge of her life by setting a new course closer to her true desires for herself. We reflected on the pre-conceived notions both the area residents and the scientists had of each other. People the world over do the same thing, making it hard for differing groups to really see and understand each other.
Kingsolver, who was trained as a scientist before becoming an author, poses a lot of challenging ideas about climate change in the book. While the habits and behavior of the Monarch Butterflies described in the book is accurate, their unexplained landing in the Appalachian area rather than their usual spot in Mexico was made up. (It gave the author the opportunity to set the novel in an area she is familiar with.) However, the changes occurring in the butterflies normal roost area were accurate and pose questions about what effect a changing climate has on the fragile life cycle of Monarchs.
Another point as how can 2 groups look at information and come up with such different conclusions? Dellarobia felt that the realities of climate change were simply too far from her daily worries and explains that her work is, “meeting the bus on time…getting the kids to eat supper, getting teeth brushed. No cavities next time. Little hopes, you know? There’s just not room at our house for the end of the world.”
This thinking also illustrates the difference in the carbon footprint between the poor and those more well off. When a man comes to the Butterfly sight to get others to sign a sustainability pledge to reduce their carbon footprint, he reads off the questions/goals to Dellarobia and is stunned to learn that the majority of them don’t apply:
“Number one. Bring your own Tupperware to a restaurant for leftovers, as often as possible.”
“I’ve not eaten in a restaurant in over two years.
“Okay, number two. Try bringing your own mug for tea or coffee. Does not apply, I guess. Carry your own Nalgene bottle instead of buying bottled water.”
“Our well water is good. We wouldn’t pay for store-bought. Is that it?” she asked.
“No. There are five other categories.”
“Let’s hear them…. You came all this way. To get us on board.”
“Okay – Everyday Necessities. Try your best to buy reused. Use Craigslist.” “What is that?” she asked, although she had a pretty good idea.
“Craigslist,” he said. “On the internet.”
“I don’t have a computer.”
“Or find your local reuse stores.”
“Find them,” she said.
“Switch some of your stocks and mutual funds to socially responsible investments, skip, skip. Okay, Home-slash-office. Make sure old computers get recycled. Turn your monitor off when not in use. I think we’ve got a lot of not applicable here.” ….. “Okay, this is the last one,” he said. “Fly less.”
“Fly less,” she repeated.
The book gave us all a lot to think about and was an enjoyable read as well. We can certainly recommend it for reading in these stay-at-home-corona-times.