Zuker’s urgent dispatches chronicle the myriad threats to the Amazon rainforest—extraction industries, the monocultures of soy and rice, political instability, climate change—and, through his deeply reported and compassionate portraits of Indigenous peoples, suggest how the destruction of this complex natural ecosystem negatively impacts all of humanity. These themes are treated especially powerfully in the moving title essay, which follows the plight of a whale stranded some 1000 miles from the Atlantic and the efforts of the riverside communities—which also face displacement—to save it. Zuker’s writing in this vital testimony to the ravages of capitalism and the escalation of threats to the Indigenous under Bolsonaro is often heartbreakingly beautiful, throwing into relief how an attack on nature is also an attack on the native peoples, who from time immemorial have known that “plants make worlds. They are creators of realities,” and have fostered “a true sphere of kinship with the vegetation around them.”
Pickhart’s kaleidoscopic novel is centered in Ukraine’s 2013-14 unrest but reaches back through the Soviet era and, most important, to the region’s ancient Kobzari: the itinerant bards who sang to the accompaniment of the single-stringed bandura. Though these “powerful, dangerous” musician/storytellers were all but wiped out under Stalin, Pickhart’s passionate writing shows that their spirit remains indomitable—a living presence for her own tensile, lyrical prose and multi-layered plot lines and for the Maidan protestors, four of whom she brings to vivid life. As she follows a young feminist activist, an American doctor of Ukrainian descent, a former miner who lost half his family to the Chernobyl explosion, and the cryptic pianist who plays for the demonstrators, she pays tribute to a strong, proud people who never lose faith in their homeland, however many times “Kyiv has fallen asleep in peace and woken up in war.”
Wimpenny, a zoologist, first learned about animals through reading Aesop’s fables as a child. But what did she learn: facts or fictions? Wondering how the ancient tales stack up against the modern science, she assesses the fabulist’s presentations of creatures from crows, wolves, and foxes, to dogs, lions, and grasshoppers. She finds his record mixed, with his depictions of lone wolves, for instance, missing the complex social nature of the packs, while his appreciation for the wiliness of foxes accurately conveys the adaptability that has allowed these cat-like creatures to thrive. Her lively and often surprising book (male lions are good fighters but poor hunters and can lie inert for 20 hours a day) is also a fascinating look at Man the Experimenter, detailing the work that has given us insight into animal behavior. And where popular, but misguided notions still prevail—that ants plan ahead (a skill more likely with corvids), or that donkeys are dumb brutes fit only to be beasts of burden (they are much more complex and interesting than they get credit for)—she lays out centuries of cultural history, tracing our fascinating and essential relationships with our fellow creatures.