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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: The Signature of All Things
Author:  Elizabeth Gilbert
Category: Fiction 
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing India
Date:  2013
Price: Rs.599

Snapshot: It is a fiction story of a lady Alma Whittaker who through her life journey discovers answers to the most basic questions of life, survival and a common theory that can explain the evolution of everything. Set in the backdrop of times when man just started pondering about changes that occur in nature, by observation, when Darwin was busy studying finches on Galapagos island there in a garden in United States was a lady who studied mosses on a stone, which gave her answer to all the big questions about life as man began to question his origin from the son of God.

The Review:  Frankly when I read the book blurb I thought it was about discoveries in botany alone. However the scientist in me is always drawn to any kind of discoveries and the stories behind it. I did not know then that Bloomsbury India had infact sent me a copy of the book that shall be the best book I ever read. It beats all popular science books I am fond of , since it is the perfect amalgamation of a backdrop when the questions were just being posed by man about his own origins and a lady scientist, who minutely observes mosses and gets to the answers to these biggest questions! If you ever had a knack of curiosity about life and its origins, this book will charm you right from page one. When Henry Whittaker as a young lad working for Sir Joseph Banks begins working in the famous gardens of Kew, to the descripton of his sea voyages simply memerised me. I felt I was his co-traveler. Only other book that engaged me so thoroughly was Life of Pi. But that is just the beginning. Henry is a young boy in times when eating the bark of Cinchonna tree can cure one from fever is just being observed. His aim is to make it big in life and he has a keen observation and sharp mind. He identifies the right species whose bark is most potent and also a way to grow it. He returns to Sir Joseph banks, one of the most famous naturalists of England and the owner of gardens of Kew, with a plan to cultivate this in the Himalayan region, only to be mocked at and ridiculed.

Henry determined and humiliated promises to be a greater man than Banks ever was, marries the right woman a sharp Duchess Beatrix Van Devender, an equal in every manner and in some even better. He manages to cultivate the Cinchona tree in America and the business flourishes. He invests largely in the early pharmaceutical business and owing to his expertise in cultivating plants and understanding them, soon becomes one of the richest men, much before the lead protagonist of the story Alma Whittaker is born. Alma is not beautiful but born to parents of extra-ordinary brilliance is naturally a child of great mental capability. Her childhood goes through lessons in multiple languages along with Science which is all around her, right from the gardens of White Acre (Henry Whitakers Mansion in America), to his business, to the endless debates and discussions hosted over dinner with men of extraordinary brilliance and accomplishments, mostly in Science.  Alma studies plants in her garden and even begins publishing her observation in scientific journals at a very young age. She finally decides to study mosses, a less crowded field but the one she believes could give her the answer to the most complex questions on earth, of life, creation and change of life forms.

Alongside on the personal front Alma gets a beautiful step sister, suddenly adopted by her parents. Alma herself not anywhere near beautiful finds it difficult to adjust, to now share the attention her parents gave her. She also falls in love, not just once, but each time her life has more questions for a life time. How many will she answer? Will she get to the ultimate truth? Well all these are the questions that might tempt a non-scientific reader to the book. As for me the back-drop was itself a nirvana, travelling through times when the earliest pharma industry began to the times when Charles Darwin finally published his findings, to the times when Alfred Russel Wallace put forward his theory of evolution. I also loved Alma Whittakers patience to study mosses without any high end equipment, her patience observing them each day and finally her methodically creating the cave of mosses in the earliest times when we didn't know so much! The initial hitch of publishing papers without her first name, so as to not be recognized as a woman,I felt the agony of it all. Also loved the sea voyages and exotic Tahiti especially the original, natural cave of mosses.

The Verdict:
Positives:  Captivating! A must must read for everyone especially people curious about life and science students. One of the best ever fiction books on Science that beats popular science. I lived the journey!

Negatives: None

Overall: 10 stars on 5. If you didn't read this book you missed something in life. I shall read and re-read this great tribute to all the women in Science again and again. Elizabeth Gilbert is now my current most favorite author!

About The Author:
Elizabeth Gilbert is the acclaimed author of five books of fiction and non-fiction. She is most well known for her 2006 bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, which has sold over ten million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. Her short story collection Pilgrims was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award, her novel Stern Men was a New York Times Notable Book and The Last American Man was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent work, Committed,was a Number One New York Times bestseller. Elizabeth Gilbert lives in New Jersey. 
I thank Bloomsbury Publishers India for an opportunity to review this gem of a book. 

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  1. Hi Nimi, I am a regular to your posts through the Facebook Page.... Here I am forwarding the Liebster Blog Award toy our blog .Hopes you like it and its details and rules are on my blog love , Kokila

  2. One of my favorite books too; you have reviewed it well and brought out all the magnificence of the work.