Monday, May 1, 2017

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Summary from Amazon:
The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald's story of adopting and raising one of nature's most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel's temperament mirrors Helen's own state of grief after her father's death, and together raptor and human "discover the pain and beauty of being alive" (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices.

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)

New York Times:

New Yorker:

All About Birds Review:

Publisher, Grove Atlantic Website:

You Tube Video with Author

Bucks County Audubon Society Accompanying Event: Falconry Demo, May 20th from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Click here is register and find more information:

Related Movie: The Eagle Huntress, the Trailer:

Discussion: May 25th at 6:15 p.m. at The Doylestown Bookshop

Discussion Questions:
(Note: These questions are primarily from the publisher's Reading Guide and some have been altered. For the entire set of questions, feel free to visit the the site:

1. What is your knowledge of raptors and falconry, before reading this book?

2. What are some of the themes that are threaded throughout the story?

3. Macdonald was eight years old when she first reads T. H. White’s The Goshawk, a book that proves a formative experience. She initially dislikes the book (p. 30): “Why would a grown-up write about not being able to do something?” How does Macdonald’s views on White’s book evolve over time? 

4. “The book you are reading is my story,” Macdonald writes. “It is not a biography of Terence Hanbury White. But White is a part of my story all the same. I have to write about him because he was there” (p. 38). What does Macdonald mean? How does understanding White’s life inform her own journey? How does our understanding of White’s book help us understand her own? Also, Macdonald cuts between her attempts to train Mabel with T. H. White’s attempts to train his goshawk. What are the similarities and differences in their training routines?

5. Macdonald writes, “What we see in the lives of animals are lessons we’ve learned from the world” (p. 60). Through closely observing her hawk’s life, what lessons does Helen ultimately learn from the world?

6. When Macdonald first trains her hawk to become accustomed to her presence, she explains that “making yourself disappear is the greatest skill in the world” (p. 68). Later, Macdonald says about being thrilled that her hawk has forgotten she’s there because it’s a sign of acceptance: “But there was a deeper, darker thrill. It was that I had been forgotten” (p. 73). Why does this excite Macdonald?

7. Macdonald goes through various emotional stages training her hawk. On one particular day, within a couple hours she goes from feeling like a “beneficent figure” to “the worst falconer in the history of the world.” Ultimately, she realizes, “I have lost the ability to disappear” (p. 93). How critical was this loss at this stage of her training? How important of a turning point is this for Macdonald?

8. A big step in Macdonald’s hawk training is “walking” Mabel in public. Macdonald fears what Mabel’s encounter with people will be like: “They are things to shun, to fear, to turn from, shielding my hawk” (p. 100). Is Macdonald also shielding herself? Why or why not?

9. Macdonald writes that each picture her father took was “a record, a testament, a bulwark against forgetting, against nothingness, against death” (p. 71). Later, she looks just once at the last photo her father took before he died. “[A]n empty London street . . . a wall tipped sideways from the vertical and running into the distance; a vanishing point of sallow, stormy sky.” It is a photo that she can “never stop seeing” (p. 106). Does Macdonald’s memory of this photo serve as a bulwark against forgetting her father? Or against her father’s death?

10. As Macdonald continues with Mabel’s training, she explains, “I felt incomplete unless the hawk was sitting on my hand: we were parts of each other. Grief and the hawk had conspired to this strangeness” (p. 135). How great a role does grief play in making Macdonald feel complete with Mabel?

11. At key points in the narrative, Macdonald is able to rely on various friends to help her through a specific emotional challenge or with Mabel’s training. How important is human friendship to Macdonald as she travels through her grief? Is it more of a challenge for her to recognize human contributions to her healing than Mabel’s? Why or why not?
you are entirely at the world’s mercy” (p. 177). What does Macdonald mean?

12. After her father’s memorial service, Macdonald thinks about her decision to “flee to the wild. It was what people did. The nature books I’d read told me so.” Macdonald realizes that this was “a beguiling but dangerous lie” that inevitably harmed Mabel. “I’d fled to become a hawk, but in my misery all I had done was turn the hawk into a mirror of me” (p. 218). How much responsibility does Macdonald bear for religiously following her nature books’ advice? Is Macdonald expressing enough empathy for her decisions? Which books is she referring to?

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