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Solace for the gooseThe Snow GeeseWilliam FiennesPicador 1499 pp250Paul Gallicos sad romantic tale The Snow Goose published in 1941 has haunted many postwar child readers The bird blown off its migratory path by a storm to a lighthouse on the Essex marshes becomes the link between a lonely hunchback painter and a young girl and ends as the painters guardian as he goes in his little sailboat to rescue troops from Dunkirk at the cost of his own lifeWilliam Fiennes was read the story at school and never forgot it As a young graduate student with a serious illness that meant he had to go home and be a child again the story seemed to speak to his restlessness and longing for change Convalescing in his familys old English house he began to study birds and maps and to make a plan that would turn into this book to follow the path of the six million or so lesser snow geese who every year fly from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of America up to their Arctic breeding groundsThe shadow of Bruce Chatwin hangs over this project - down to Chatwins childhood watching of swallows and his reading The Open Road long before his pursuit of Aboriginal songlinesThe Snow Geese also belongs to a new wave of non-fictional books of exploration - part research into and meditation on some special phenomenon part intrepid or curious adventure part or indirect autobiography These books include Alice Thomsons The Singing Line Francis Spuffords I May Be Some Time Gaby Woods Living Dolls or Christopher Woodwards Ruins Call it auto-journalism or quest-writing or wild goose chaseFiennes voice though is fresh and singular As he makes his 2000-mile four-month journey by plane hired car Greyhound bus train and snowmobile from Eagle Lake in Texas to the birds Midwestern staging posts in Aberdeen South Dakota and the grainfields of Portage Plains west of Winnipeg in Canada then up to
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