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Orwell's Roses  By  cover art

Orwell's Roses

By: Rebecca Solnit
Narrated by: Rebecca Solnit
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Publisher's Summary

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

“An exhilarating romp through Orwell’s life and times and also through the life and times of roses.” —Margaret Atwood

“A captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker.” —Claire Messud, Harper's

“Nobody who reads it will ever think of Nineteen Eighty-Four in quite the same way.” —Vogue

A lush exploration of politics, roses, and pleasure, and a fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener whose political writing was grounded by his passion for the natural world

“In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” So begins Rebecca Solnit’s new book, a reflection on George Orwell’s passionate gardening and the way that his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and on the intertwined politics of nature and power.

Sparked by her unexpected encounter with the roses he reportedly planted in 1936, Solnit’s account of this overlooked aspect of Orwell’s life journeys through his writing and his actions—from going deep into the coal mines of England, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, critiquing Stalin when much of the international left still supported him (and then critiquing that left) to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism.

Through Solnit’s celebrated ability to draw unexpected connections, readers are drawn onward from Orwell‘s own work as a writer and gardener to encounter photographer Tina Modotti’s roses and her politics, agriculture and illusion in the USSR of his time with forcing lemons to grow in impossibly cold conditions, Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, Jamaica Kincaid’s examination of colonialism and imperialism in the flower garden, and the brutal rose industry in Colombia that supplies the American market. The book draws to a close with a rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that completes Solnit’s portrait of a more hopeful Orwell, as well as offering a meditation on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.

©2021 Rebecca Solnit (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

NAMED A "MUST-READ" BOOK OF 2021 BY TIME

 “[A] tribute by one fine essayist of the political left to another of an earlier generation . . . the great pleasure of reading [Solnit] is spending time with her mind, its digressions and juxtapositions, its unexpected connections . . . a captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker . . . movingly, [Solnit]  takes the time to find the traces of Orwell the gardener and lover of beauty in his pollical novels, and in his insistence on the value and pleasure of things.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine 

“[A] wide-ranging yet disciplined sequence of essays on the importance of joy in Orwell’s concept of freedom . . . Solnit seeks to show us that Orwell was [...] capable of taking great joy in small things . . . and such pleasure was intrinsic to his political vision . . . like Orwell as essayist, Solnit deploys the full human instrument in service of her curiosity . . . She just creates a frame large enough to contain both revolutionary brilliance and unwitting reactionary associations in the same person—large enough to contain life’s contradictions in a way that only the essay, that humble literary mouthpiece, can.” The New York Times Book Review

“One of the pleasures of reading Orwell's Roses is its unexpected turns from one subject to the next . . . Solnit is having fun when she makes these connections—finding joy in the intellectual pursuit of writing and thinking. That she allows herself to do so in a book that is in many ways very serious too is in keeping with the very aesthetics it's engaging with. ‘Clarity, precision, accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness are aesthetic values to him, and pleasures,’ she writes about Orwell. But she may as well have been describing her own, or at least this book's, aesthetic values and pleasures as well.” —NPR

What listeners say about Orwell's Roses

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Absolutely Awful!

This is a book in need of a subject. Solnit rambles all over the place. I was expecting a book about Orwell raising roses--experiences, varieties, cultivation, et. al. Instead, it's about communism, socialism, the industrial revolution, primitive coal mining in Wales, Orwell's health, and more. It never goes anywhere. The author sometimes mispronounces words and has a breathy soft voice that is monotonous and virtually hypnotic. I would recommend this work only as a cure for insomnia. It was truly awful. Don't waste your time and money! Just my opinion. Of course, YMMV.

2 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully tied together

This book delves into a number of topics surrounding Orwell, his roses, the times he lived through, and how they connect to our now.

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The most beautiful book

One of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. There is nothing quite like it.

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  • cs
  • 10-17-22

A new, grounded view of Orwell, time, and gratitude

In this work, Solnit presents a fascinating view of a more grounded, contextual Orwell than the ones typically given.
Through visits to his farm, its rose garden, and descriptions of his farm notebooks, Solnit introduces Orwell’s love of gardening, of growing, and his appreciation for things of life in their place and time.

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interesting meditation on Orwell

a very personal meditation on the writing of George Orwell, sometimes stream of consciousness but always interesting and thoughtful.

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WONDERFULLY complex story, rigorously researched and vocally performed

Thank you for this writing and its performance, as a fan of Orwell, like many, it sheds new critical insights, putting forth artistic and political ideas, sometimes explicit and sometimes embedded, just like the writing of Orwell. this is a gem, to be listened to at least twice.

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  • KW
  • 03-04-22

Beautiful and brilliant

Rebecca Solnit’s meditation on Orwell and nature is original in form as well as substance. Nuanced, probing, multifaceted, eloquent.

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Stunning

A stunning book. A work of great literature in its own right, Rebecca Solnit’s book on Orwell is really about the social and intellectual world of the first half of the 20th century, and it’s implications are with us in every moment of our lives. Orwell played a huge role in awakening the world to the ravages of authoritarianism, not merely the gulags and concentration camps but the bonds it places on our minds and language and thereby our souls. I’ve learned so much from this book that I’ve often listened in stunned silence. Orwell, unlike the unfortunate Winston Smith, stood up to the despots of his time like no other. But in facing up to such ugliness he found salvation in the beauty of nature. The love of beauty, of gardens, of roses, of one another are themselves revolutionary acts and we must never lose site of that discovery. My great thanks to Ms. Solnit for this awakening.

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Roses, Interesting Take on Orwell

This was an interesting history lesson for me. It developed a connection between present day, history, & Orwellian, all connected through roses.