Posted Apr 16, 2019, 11:33 AMUpdated on Apr 16, 2019 at 11:48
Richard Powers’ new opus is more than a world novel, it’s a planet novel. A literary mountain, which hides a dense forest. Because the forest is the heroine of “L’Arbre-Monde”, epic fiction which is addressed to all those who have devoured “The Secret Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben or other essays on our leafy comrades… The intention of the author-activist can be summed up in one sentence, uttered several times over these 500 closely written pages: “The best arguments in the world will never make you change your mind. For that, what is needed is a good story. “The World Tree” offers us a plethora of good stories – a tree of flamboyant narratives that coalesce into an ecological, political and philosophical maelstrom.
In the first part, Powers attacks the “roots”: with a brilliant talent for storytelling, he depicts nine characters from childhood to adulthood in America over the past sixty years. Nicholas Hoel, Mimi Ma, Adama Appich, Ray Brinkman, Dorothy Cazaly, Douglas Pavlicek, Neelay Mehta, Patricia Westerford and Olivia Vandregriff all have a particular element in their DNA that ties them to trees, dead or alive. Their beginnings in life are told at full speed, but with a multitude of shimmering details that make you dizzy.
The stakeholder reader
In “Trunk”, “Cime” and “Seeds”, the writer makes meet, love, fight, go astray, hope and despair these Americans of all origins who have become resistance fighters – the destroyers of an America, which , obsessed with short-term profit, methodically destroys its natural resources, forests in mind. The reader becomes attached to these fighters in the shadows – who range from the young solitary artist, to the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who has become an engineer, passing by the former GI, the scientist, the psychologist or the geek -, and gradually feel part of their ecological fight. In their company, he learns to adore these great giant thousand-year-old trees and suffers when the chainsaw cuts into them, then cuts them down.
On the strength of his extensive research, his scholarly quotations (from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to Chinese poetry) and his abundant imagination, Richard Powers transforms his book into a manifesto and the reader into a virtual activist – to the point of making us complicit in the excesses incendiaries of his little green soldiers. If certain passages do not completely avoid baba cool angelism and new age hermeticism, the whole is high quality: documented, open, reasonably pessimistic. The forest is retreating in the world, but its defenders are advancing. Our roots are intertwined with those of the trees, their future is ours. Richard Powers brilliantly undertook the reforestation of our hearts.
L’Arbre-Monde, by Richard Powers, translation by Serge Chauvin. Le Cherche Midi, 550 pages, 22 euros.
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“The World Tree” by Richard Powers receives the Pulitzer Prize