Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver

Small Wonder.

“My daughter is in love. She's only five years old, but this is real. Her beau is shorter than she is, by a wide margin, and she couldn't care less. He has dark eyes, a loud voice, and a tendency to crow. He also has five girlfriends, but Lily doesn't care about that, either. She loves them all: Mr. Doodle, Jess, Bess, Mrs. Zebra, Pixie, and Kiwi. They're chickens. Lily likes to sit on an overturned bucket and sing to them in the afternoons. She has them eating out of her hand.”

Thus begins the essay titled “Lily's Chickens,” from Tucson writer Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, Small Wonder. Written in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Kingsolver brings to this collection of essays her remarkable voice, urging us to stand back and take a look at ourselves, and the impact we may have on one another, on our neighborhoods, and, ultimately, on the planet itself.

In an essay titled “Flying,” the author considers the events of 11 September 2001, and how they brought home to residents of this country what has become commonplace to far too many people in other places.

“In my lifetime I have argued against genocide, joined campaigns for disaster aid, sent seeds to places of famine. I have mourned my fellow humans in every way I've known how. But never before have their specific deaths so persistently entered my dreams. This time it was us, leaving us trembling, leading my little daughter to ask quietly, “Will it happen to me, Mama?” I understood with the deepest sadness I've ever known that this was the wrong question to ask, and it always has been. It has always been happening to us – in Nicaragua, in the Sudan, in Hiroshima, that night in Baghdad – and now we finally know what it feels like. Now we may learn, from the taste of our own blood, that every war is both won and lost, and that loss is a pure, high note of anguish like a mother singing to an empty bed.”

Motherhood is a theme that runs through Kingsolver's essays. As she writes in “Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen:”

“Here's a secret you should know about mothers: We spy. Yes, on our kids. It starts at birth. In those first months we spend twenty-three hours a day trying to get you to sleep, grateful you aren't verbal yet because at some point we run out of lyrics to the lullabies and start singing “Hush little baby, don't be contrary, / Mama's gonna have a coro-nary.” And then you finally doze off, and what do you think we do? Go read a book? No, we stand over your cradle and stare, thinking, God, those little fingernails. Those eyelashes. Where did this perfect creature come from?”

From gardening to chickens, motherhood to civil rights, the author of these essays shows us, as in her writing she always does, the beauty in the world that we still have, and the need for hope in the face of adversity. Barbara Kingsolver believes that our largest problems have grown from the remotest corners of the earth, but also from our own backyards, and the answers may lie in those places, too. Small Wonder is a hopeful examination of the people we seem to be, and what we might yet make of ourselves. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.