Reviewed by Olivia at Angus & Robertson:
Two families, lifetimes apart, find common ground in Unsheltered, a powerful and contemplative new novel from Barbara Kingsolver that I cannot recommend highly enough. In 1871, a new science teacher comes to Vineland determined to teach his pupils the work of Charles Darwin, only to meet fierce resistance from the town’s most powerful leaders. Nearly 150 years later, in 2016, a woman must balance the weight of her everyday life with the grief of her recently widowed son as she struggles to keep their life from crumbling down amongst them (along with the house itself).
Kingsolver seamlessly weaves their stories together in a novel that reaches into the past and brings historic malaise to the present, mixing it with our own modern anxieties to show us how the problems we think are unique to us are in fact timeless. In doing so, Kingsolver paints a bleak portrait of an America beset by fear and mistrust, but also one which is redeemable by the power of community and genuine connection. This is another masterful novel from a much beloved author that I think is a must read.
A testament to the power and goodness of the human spirit, Unsheltered explores the foundations we build, crossing time and place to give us all a little more hope in those around us, and a little more faith in ourselves.
The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behaviour, The Lacuna,and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards - including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize - returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.
Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it's so unnerving that she's arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.
In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland's past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.
A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher's friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town's most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.
Brilliantly executed and compulsively readable, Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerising story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realise that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred - whether family or friends - and in the strength of the human spirit.