My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A sweetly meandering memoir of loss and living. Litt Woon met her husband in Norway, where she had come from Malaysia to study anthropology. They got married, she stayed in Norway, and they had a lovely marriage as anthropologist and architect until one day with no warning her husband Eiolf fell dead as soon as he walked into work.
This is not a memoir about grief, however—it’s a memoir about moving through grief, that metaphorical forest where we get lost between life and death. Long went through the trauma of losing a spouse, dealing with details, joining a grief group, wondering how to go on. One day she decided to do on her own something Eoilf and she had talked about, checking out the course, “Mushrooms for Beginners.” Norway is huge on forest foraging, and expert volunteers check mushroom harvests for edibility for foragers right outside the forest.
She didn’t realize she was finding her way back to life until she was already on the path, her appetite awakened with novelty and sensation after months in the grey lands of grieving.
What is most fascinating to me is seeing the world of grief and the world of mushrooms through a different cultural lens: Long is Malaysian by birth culture, embedded in Norwegian culture, not at all American. Whether due to culture, personality, or training as an anthropologist, Long has an ability to give us detached and caring insight into her journey of losing the love of her life and then discovering the passion of an avocation.
You don’t have to be grieving or a mushroom geek to enjoy the book—people interested in nature, science, and other cultures will find points of interest. And of course we have all experienced loss in some way, to be able to connect with the story. There will definitely be too many mushroom details for some folks—I give you permission to skim; the other parts of the book and pleasure of reading how much joy Eiolf left behind is inspiring.
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