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“Orwell’s Roses” by Rebecca Solnit

I’ve been rather bogged down by my life lately, so I hadn’t been able to push myself to write something… Now, this book has made me feel like doing so! The other day, I had a worrisome visa issue cleared and was quite relieved. On the day when I obtained the visa, I dropped by a bookstore (Dussmann, my favorite bookstore in Berlin!) to give me something nice as a reward for myself. When I was browsing through bookshelves, I was blessed with a serendipitous encounter with a book entitled “Orwell’s Roses” by Rebecca Solnit. I had acquainted myself with the world of Solnit through her superb essay on Fushimi-Inari Shrine and found her work intriguing. I liked her acute observation of life, philosophical and thought-provoking. On top of that, George Orwell has been my lifework. I bought it at once.


This book unfolds around the theme of roses which Orwell planted in 1936, which was described in one of his essays called “A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray”. Vicar of Bray is rather notorious for his political stances. However, his planting a yew tree offsets his misdeed after he dies.

“Yet, after this lapse of time, all that is left of him is a comic song and a beautiful tree which has rested the eyes of generation after generation and must surely have outweighed any bad effects which he produced by his political quislingism.”

Orwell argues that what people can do in their lifetime and can leave behind is limited. He points out that we could at least plant something, which might lead to something positive and meaningful for future generations. His self-effacing and realistic attitude towards life made me think a lot. Solnit writes about a poem “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim.

“It was equally an argument against the idea that everything that human beings need can be reduced to quantifiable, tangible goods and conditions. Roses in these declarations stood for the way that human beings are complex, desires are irreducible, that what sustains us is often subtle and elusive.”

I’ve found Orwell in Solnit. I’ve only read some chapters, but so far quite like it. It is Bread I fight for, but I fight for Roses, too.

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