H Is for Hawk

British poet and naturalist Helen Macdonald, inconsolable after her father's sudden death, had a recurring memory of a goshawk she'd seen while working at a bird-of-prey center. In H Is for Hawk, she shares her decision to adopt one, Mabel, and her months-long dedication to training this fiercest of creatures. "The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life."

Macdonald juxtaposes the tale of her healing and the grueling protocols of falconry with the parallels--and differences--between her relationship with Mabel and writer T.H. White's relationship with his hawk, Gos, as recorded in his 1951 book The Goshawk. Reading this work by the author of Once and Future King at eight fascinated and puzzled her: "Gos was comprehensible, even if the writer was utterly beyond understanding." Macdonald's sympathetic portrayal of White's brutal childhood and his lifelong self-doubt tempers her depiction of how ineptly he treated his goshawk. As a historian, her research of White is thorough and his personality fascinating, but it's a pleasure when she returns to her own story.

She learned to observe from her photojournalist father, and as a "watcher" all her life, Macdonald could imagine herself in the hawk's mind. She vividly portrays the English countryside and her dear Mabel: "Formidable talons, wicked, curved black beak, sleek, café-au-lait front streaked thickly with cocoa-colored teardrops, looking for all the world like some cappuccino samurai." A memoir of loss and healing, a biography and a goshawk primer, H Is for Hawk is heartfelt and poetic. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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