The Naturalist

The Naturalist

A Novel

Book - 2016
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1867, Philadelphia. Amateur naturalist Walter Ash is on the brink of setting off to travel up his beloved Amazon when fate intervenes, obliging his only son to take his place. More at ease among his books than in the field, Paul Ash takes a reluctant leave of absence from Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology to accompany his grieving stepmother and her young companion to the fabled River Sea. Paul holds no memory of the place, though he was born there; he was still an infant when his father carried him out of the jungle and away from the mixed-blood family he might have known. As it transpires, however, neither the region nor its people have forgotten Paul. The Amazon lays claim to him in no uncertain terms, but it also works a peculiar magic on both his father's lovely widow and her friend--a quiet little Quaker named Rachel Weaver who proves strangely at home in the wild.
Publisher: Toronto : Random House Canada, 2016, ♭2016
ISBN: 9780345814999
Branch Call Number: YORK
Characteristics: 295 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

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Dec 09, 2018

It was a beautiful read, but heart breaking as well. More so because of how humans need to kill, collect, enclose living animals. Guess that’s how knowledge was attained primarily back in the day and probably still now. Still pretty heart breaking to read. A beautiful woven story nonetheless.

Oct 20, 2017

Fairly simplistic and predictable. None of the characters hold any real surprises. Depictions of life in the jungle - whether at home or out in the jungle - only skim the surface. The harvesting (i.e. killing) of nearly every animal encountered, along with a general lack of care for those left alive, is quite accurate for the period. An average read overall.

ontherideau Aug 02, 2016

I struggle with the harvest of animals simply for human viewing and interest- maybe that was the author's intention.
How are the ethics of these "Naturalists" different from the big game hunters of today?
Is it different than beings from another planet taking some of us as specimens?

samdog123 Jul 20, 2016

I saw this on a CBC summer reads book list. The cover drew me--so interesting. If you're expecting a suspenseful trip through the Amazon, you're going to be disappointed. Instead, this book is full of discovery for all the characters--it's slow and meandering and the setting takes over as a character all its own. After Iris' husband, Walter dies in an accident, she sets off to complete the trip with his son Paul and her companion, Rachel. Rachel adores everything she comes across, while Iris, the artist, is stuck in creating visuals but doesn't really enjoy the surroundings. Paul, or Paulo, is Walter's son born of a native Mother. Rediscovering his family awakens him in a way he thought was impossible. One critic said she thought it could be 'darker', but I think this book does fine just the way it is.

Jul 08, 2016

1867. Adventurous women in the Amazon. Detailed botanic and fauna descriptions. Life simplified to the cycle of life and death, and slowed to the pace of a dugout canoe on water. I felt like I was there, hearing jungle sounds and scratching insect bites. Immersive and meditative.

coroboreefarm May 17, 2016

Languid and dreamlike, this new novel, writen by Canadian novelist and Giller prize finalist, Alissa York, offers up a fascinating twist on the theme of the Victorian explorer naturalist in the Amazonian rainforest.

Three unlikely adventurers set off to fulfil the dream of noted amateur naturalist Walter Ash, unexpectedly dead on the eve of his second expedition. What these travellers discover about themselves and the creatures who inhabit the dangerous, but magical, snake filled world of the Amazon reveals their true predilections and loves.

This is my first experience with the writing of Alissa York, and I look forward to reading her other works.


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Jul 08, 2016

In dressing for today's ceremony, I realized my feet had become strangers to my shoes. Having shaken a host of cockroaches from the left, I walked a few pinched paces before stashing the offending articles in my trunk.

Jul 08, 2016

Any woman might marvel at a feather, but it takes a special turn of mind to appreciate a scale.

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