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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Difficult Trek Aug. 19 2005
By Rebeca - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As an avid reader, enthusiastic traveler, lover of Nepal, and a wannabe gardener, I eagerly picked up "Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya". Jamaica Kincaid has written of her trek through the mountains of Nepal gathering seeds to plant in her Vermont garden. What promises to be a literary trek through some of the world's highest peaks ends up feeling more like a slow walk down an endless sidewalk. While there are a few remarkable descriptions of the mountains and rivers she crossed, most of the book is filled with the author's introspective whining. The pages of a travel memoir should transport the reader into another land and introduce us to it's places, people and unique culture. Unfortunately, "Among Flowers" fails to do any of those things.

The main thing that struck me about this book is how self-absorbed the author seems to be. By her own admission, she took almost no interest in what was around her unless it was of some use to her, for example, if some particular seeds would grow in her region. While she seems to have a good grasp of Latin plant names, she couldn't learn the actual names of her Nepali porters. Instead she refers to them merely by what role they played in relation to her- the man who prepared her meals was "Cook" and the one who carried her table was "Table". She admits that she didn't bother noting the characteristics of the Nepali people since they couldn't do the same for her. She makes a gross generalization of the people as either looking like they were from the South (India) or the North (Tibet), apparently not having taken the time to learn about the many indigenous Nepalese tribes. As a black woman who was raised in Antigua and now resides in America, I was very surprised at Kincaid's lack of cultural sensitivity toward others and apparent disinterest in the people of Nepal. In addition, in two different places she mentions having a hatred for the Germans and even says "Germans seem to be the one group of people left that can not be liked just because you feel like it".

As a piece of literature, the text is rambling and incohesive. Some sentences seem like they will never end; others left me wondering what she was talking about. She ping-pongs between what she sees and what she feels and then attempts to draw us into her distant memories. Far too much of the book is spent describing what she was thinking and complaining about things. I'm afraid the result is that she seems to be far more engrosed with herself than interested in the amazing places and people she is walking among. This book may better have been described as a personal journal than a travel memoir.

If you are interested in trekking in the Himalaya, read a different book. If gardening and seed-collecting are what you fancy, look somewhere else. However, if you want to get to know Jamaica Kincaid, this just may be the book for you.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Another world within a world March 12 2005
By ZZR-RR - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Among Flowers is an account of Kincaid's trek in the Himalaya with her botanist companions.

Kincaid, living in Vermont but originally from Antigua, is an enthusiastic gardener herself though not a seed collector to the extent of her botanist companions. On occasion, particularly at the beginning, I couldn't help wondering what Kincaid was doing on the expedition other than gathering material for this quirky introspective book. She makes much of missing her thirteen-year old son Harold and keeps calling him on her satellite phone until Sunam, the Sherpa leader, takes it away from her due to the Maoist activity in the area. Also she is acutely aware that most of the seeds collected are not suitable for growing in Vermont and therefore shows little or no enthusiasm for them.

As regards her companions, she mentions them by name but dispenses with detailed description. It's as if they were pale ghosts beavering away in a mystical landscape in their quest for seeds.

To say I didn't care for the book would be wrong, rather, I did enjoy it, but found several sentences repetitive, stumbling, and bordering on the nonsensical. The writing does not flow easily ...

... "Dan said we were too low for finding this; Bleddyn said, yes, but soon we would be." ...

... "It resembled something my children would play with in the bathtub, rounded and dullishly smoothed, like an old-fashioned view of the way things will look in the old-fashioned future, not pointed and harshly shiny like the future I am used to living in now." ...

... "When I told Sunam how touched I was by his presence, this little boy, the same age as my son, carrying sixty-pound loads strapped up on his back, he said of course I would be touched because Jhaba was a Sherpa." ...

... "Now the shield itself was behind me, I could no longer see the mountains that had been the shield of my destination." ...

It's as if this stumbling style mimics Kincaid's stumbling trek ... "That night in the cold dark and snow when I had stumbled into camp, what I had missed seeing growing spectacularly among the boulders hovering above me was the great Rheum nobile, growing solitary, erect, aloof, and stiff like little sentinels."

Despite her off-beat writing style, or because of it, Kincaid succeeds in capturing the mysterious atmosphere of her surroundings and the frustrations of seed/plant collecting combined with the real danger of confronting Maoist guerrillas. A view on another world within a world.

She manages to give an impression of possessing a contrived naivety through her writing style which is simplistic and complex all at the same time. Nevertheless, I'd prefer to have had her participate more and given a gutsier descriptive account of the seed collecting and the people surrounding her.

That's style for you, what gets published and what doesn't. I'd be interested to know how much editing went on. Agents and editors are notorious for cutting and suggesting re-writes for clarity or length. This book is purposely short, by Kincaid's own admission, probably her stylistic view-point won over her editor in previous publications so that aspect was a non-starter in this one.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I gave up on this book after 40 will, too! April 10 2006
By E. H. Reisman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stay away from this book! Jamaica Kincaid's book is filled with pseudo-philosophy and hollow observations towards life which reads artificial. As someone who has trekked the Himalaya, I can only surmise that Kincaid was on some shallow, self-absorbed trip of her own. Don't just take my word for it, read just one of her own passages (pages 27-28): "One group was from Austria but we decided to call them the Germans, because we didn't like them from the look of them, they were so professional-looking with all kinds of hiking gear, all meant to make the act of hiking easier, I think. But we didn't like them, and Germans seem to be the one group of people left that can not be liked just because you feel like it." She can't even be bothered to learn the name of one of the Sherpas who helped carry her provisions, and instead refers to him as "Table" since he was also responsible for setting up the table where her and the other hikers ate. Giving him this demeaning nickname as you would a dog gives you some idea as to the type of person Kincaid is. Save yourself a few bucks, there are far, far better books to read about the Himalayas.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Exotic, Interesting...Yet Odd Dec 10 2012
By S. Lawrence - Published on
Format: Paperback
How can a book about a fervent gardener going to Nepal NOT be interesting? When so much of a modern person's life is focused on enhancing their level of coziness it's surely a delight to see someone like the author endure deprivations and take on extraordinary physical challenges towards a lovely goal. Really, who among us wouldn't prefer reading about tent-camping in a soggy field filled with leeches than experiencing it?

The goal is to acquire seeds for plants that will survive and thrive in a Vermont garden. The reader feels the author's delight in seeing a flower that's humdrum at home come to full, enormous, technicolor life in a tiny, remote Nepalese village. Even a person whose interest in gardens plummets after sniffs of basil can understand the author's tremendous joy.

Which leaves us with the odd, starting with the stilted syntax. It's part eighteenth century, part Hemingway, part Book of Genesis rewritten into the first person singular. She sems to take contrarian pride in being rather a pill on the trip--continually asking the others in the group, "What is this?", losing interest completely if the answer involves a plant that wouldn't cope in Vermont, and--why not?--a fair amount of whining. If the author regrets taxing her companions so on an already arduous journey she stoically keeps that sorrow to herself.

Then there are the perplexing Where Was the Editor? bits. Once you establish that you're using Fahrenheit there's really no need to add it to every following temperature. She'll repeatedly describe what was for dinner and quickly tell us she didn't eat. And did every night's trip to the bathroom need to be recorded?

Lastly, it isn't a moral stain that the author refers to the Nepalese man who cooks for the group as Cook, or the man who lugs the table and chairs as Table, but man, it sure would have been nice if she could have remembered their names. And as the author doesn't hear the porters' names is she really, truly seeing the Nepalese girls, each one of which she declares beautiful?

None of the apparent cross-cultural hiccups would mind if the trip in and of itself didn't scream of First World class privilege. Despite the loveliness of the idea, aspects of the book come across as just another example of the West's determination to Get What it Wants--be it South American bananas, Iraqi oil, or perhaps the seeds is a lovely flower in the Himalaya.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Stumbling steps and style June 1 2009
By Tarepanda - Published on
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book for the captivatingly beautiful cover (mine was a hard cover with a misty photo of an old temple and two young lamas) and romantic title, but I am not sure if the writing lives up to it.

As I myself had been an inexperienced hiker on a difficult trek, I can understand how the harsh journey can bring out the unpleasant, frustrated and complaining self, and blind one to the surrounding, despite its beauty, but it does feel like the author whines too much (and pees a lot). The writing itself was at times clumsy too, as if mirroring her footsteps, which was a surprise coming from an acclaimed literary.