On My Bookshelf: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Title: The Overstory
Author: Richard Powers
Genre: Literary, Magical Realism, Trees, Ecology
My Rating: 4/5

Broken down into four parts (Roots, Trunk, Crown, Seeds), this is a difficult book to describe. Roots is basically a collection of short stories about people whose lives have been impacted by trees. In the rest of the book, which has elements of magical realism, the characters are drawn together by trees, which are semi-sentient beings and a silent character in their own right. The bulk of the story follows a group that gets involved in environmental activism and, depending on how you look at it, eco-terrorism.

This book dragged at times and gripped me at others. Every paragraph was so full of meaning and information, that it took me longer to read than usual. I wouldn’t call this a bedtime read; I definitely needed to focus to get the most out of this book. The story was hopeful and heartbreaking and it brought me to tears multiple times. The genius of The Overstory is that it holds a mirror up to humanity and it’s both a beautiful and horrifying picture. Powers captures the capacity of humans for great altruism and love–and terrible violence and destruction. The ending was bittersweet. If Powers is right, the outlook for us humans doesn’t look great. But the trees will still be there, long, long after we’re gone. 

“You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes. . . .”

The Overstory, Richard Powers

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