How I Became a Tree
Aleph Book Company 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network August 7, 2018 Madhuri Karak
Sumana Roy‘s first book How I Became a Tree (Aleph, 2017) is impossible to classify. Part-philosophical tract, part-memoir and part-literary criticism, the book is a record of her explorations in “tree-time.” Intrigued by the balance, contentment and rootedness of trees, Roy begins to delve into a corpus of human knowledge devoted to understanding the mysteries of plant life. Effortless and eclectic, she engages with the work of Buddha, Rabindranath Tagore, D.H. Lawrence, the photographs of Beth Moon, the art of Nandalal Bose, Indian folklore, Greek myths, the scientist Jagadish C. Bose’s pioneering work on plant stimuli, Deleuze and Guattari, Bengali novelist Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyaya, O’Henry and Shakespeare alongside autobiographical vignettes about her own gradual awareness of the plant world’s mysteries.
Our conversation ranged from the rigidity of scholarly prose and what it inevitably precludes, writing with all five senses, “research” as a search for answers both existential and intellectual, and the importance of cultivating a sensibility over mere scholarship.
An essayist, novelist and poet, Roy is currently a Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany. Her novel Missing was published in April 2018, and her poems and essays have appeared in Granta, Guernica, Los Angeles Review of Books, Drunken Boat, Prairie Schooner, Berfrois and The Common. She lives in Siliguri, India.
Madhuri Karak is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation titled “Part-time Insurgents, Civil War and Extractive Capital in an Adivasi Frontier” explores processes of state-making in the bauxite-rich mountains of southern Odisha, India. She tweets @madhurikarak and more of her work can be found here.