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Miracle Country
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Miracle Country

A Memoir


Bookseller Recommendation

Miracle Country

Miracle Country is one of those books that takes on the personality of the place in which it's set, and in the case of the Owens River Valley, that personality is starkly beautiful and full of rugged vitality. Atleework's unflinching combination of personal and natural exploration is the perfect complement to the backdrop of the High Sierra, and she somehow manages to encapsulate both the allure and the contemptuousness of the mountains and existence in general through her examination of her own life. Harsh and brutal, resplendent and inviting, this book makes the Sierra Nevada tangible in a way that only great writing can.”

Cellar Door Books image David Nurick, Cellar Door Books

Description

Kendra Atleework grew up in Swall Meadows, in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, where annual rainfall averages five inches and in drought years measures closer to zero. Kendra's family raised their children to thrive in this harsh landscape, forever at the mercy of wildfires, blizzards, and gale-force winds. Most of all, the Atleework children were raised on unconditional love and delight in the natural world. But it came at a price. When Kendra was six, her mother was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, and she died when Kendra was sixteen. Her family fell apart, even as her father tried to keep them together. Kendra took flight from her bereft family, escaping to the enemy city of Los Angeles, and then Minneapolis, land of all trees, no deserts, no droughts, full lakes, water everywhere you look.

But after years of avoiding the pain of her hometown, she realized that she had to go back, that the desert was the only place she could live. Like Wild, Miracle Country is a story of flight and return, bounty and emptiness, and the true meaning of home. But it also speaks to the ravages of climate change and its permanent destruction of the way of life in one particular town.

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Testimonials


“Can a book be both radiant with light and shadowy as midnight? Miracle Country can. I felt the thrill I once knew reading Annie Dillard for the first time. Kendra Atleework can really write. She flies with burning wings.”

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels

“Miracle Country is truly some kind of miracle, combining a moving family story with deft, deeply researched history. Written from the crucible of California's water wars, combined with a family story of love and loss in the high desert Eastern Sierra Nevada, Kendra Atleework's book joins the great American accounts of the West, a step beyond Joan Didion, moving from a beloved geography into a jeopardized future. Kendra Atleework is that rare writer—capable of heart-stopping memoir while performing a work of keen observation and serious history. A work of stunning acuity and candor, essential reading, already a classic narrative.”

Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day

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About the author


Kendra Atleework received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. An essay that formed the basis for a chapter of Miracle Country was selected for The Best American Essays 2015. She is the recipient of the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award and the AWP Intro Journals Project Award.


Reviews

“Atleework takes her place among literary nonfiction masters with this moving and richly detailed memoir. She expertly weaves her personal story within a greater political fabric, humanizing the sometimes difficult to comprehend, wide, and perhaps surprising reach of climate change's effects on even the smallest communities in America. Readers who enjoy environmental writing, intimate looks at family dynamics, and/or coming of age stories will definitely want MIRACLE COUNTRY on their shelves.”

Katelyn O’Brien, Square Books, Oxford, MS

“Truly something special and refreshing. Kendra Atleework’s powerful debut is the rare trifecta that seamlessly blends personal narrative with historical nonfiction and highly charged, activist-style rhetoric with rarely a misstep or heavy hand . . . Whether you’re in it for the emotional roller coaster or want an armchair view of an area of California not on your radar, Miracle Country works on multiple levels. It reminds us to hold our loved ones close, conserve our resources, treat the land as sacred and stop putting our collective heads in the sand when it comes to climate change.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Drawing parallels between her upbringing and the region's history, [Atleework's] memoir celebrates her home and the region while lovingly portraying her family's eccentricities. Her ability to relay naturalistic majesty in exquisite detail is dynamic yet tender, resulting in captivating storytelling . . . A breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.”

PopMatters

“Atleework captures how the history of the landscape affects how people feel in the present in prose charged with emotion . . . Miracle Country is a beautiful read, Atleework’s prose steeped in her passion for the region and her striking observations. Even more, though, the memoir is important because it reveals Atleework’s deep understanding of the region, of a life defined by an absence, and she points us to the power in this understanding—it can be a tool to stay safe in a desert or on a cliff, a way to connect with other people, a call to counteract climate change, or, as in Atleework’s case, a reason to return home.”

Ploughshares

“[A] shimmering memoir . . . A bittersweet tribute to home and family in breathtaking prose that will appeal to lovers of memoirs and history, as well as anyone who enjoys beautifully crafted writing.”

Library Journal, starred review

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