Barbara Kingsolver 1955-
American novelist, short story writer, essayist, nonfiction writer, and poet.
The following entry presents an overview of Kingsolver's career through 1999.
Barbara Kingsolver has attracted a large readership and critical appreciation for creating highly entertaining stories that feature strong, appealing female characters. These stories typically address contemporary social and political evils, from poverty and child abuse to environmental pollution and human rights violations. Her best-selling novels The Bean Trees (1988), Animal Dreams (1990), Pigs in Heaven (1993), and The Poisonwood Bible (1998) revolve around women from rural, working-class backgrounds who struggle to form connections and find their place in society. Through idiomatic prose and compelling storytelling, Kingsolver creates popular fiction that presents strong opinions on contemporary America and its problems.
The daughter of a country doctor and a homemaker, Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1955 and grew up in the rural and impoverished town of Carlisle, Kentucky. When she was in second grade her parents moved the family to the Belgian Congo, where her father worked as a physician for a year before returning to Kentucky. In high school the shy and cerebral Kingsolver shared little in common with her rural classmates, few of whom went to college or moved away from Kentucky. She was a talented pianist and won a music scholarship to DePauw University in Indiana, later changing her major to earn a bachelor's degree in biology when she realized career opportunities in music were limited. Kingsolver earned a M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona in 1981. She began a doctoral program at Arizona but left to take a job as a technical writer for the Office of Arid Land Studies. Later, she worked as a freelance writer and journalist. Much of her writing focused on social issues, including protest against nuclear power plants and drawing attention to human rights abuses in Latin America. Kingsolver married chemist Joseph Hoffman in 1985. While pregnant with her first child, Kingsolver began work on The Bean Trees, which won a 1988 American Library Association Award. Its success helped her to complete and publish Holding the Line (1989), a nonfiction work that she began prior to writing The Bean Trees. She continued to write and publish short stories, many of which appeared in Homeland and Other Stories (1989). She published Animal Dreams the following year, winning the PEN fiction prize and the Edward Abbey Ecofiction Award. Kingsolver later wrote Pigs in Heaven, a sequel to The Bean Trees, published a collection of essays, High Tide in Tucson (1995), and produced her best-selling work to date, The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver divorced her first in husband in the early 1990s and married ornithologist Steven Hopp in 1995. She lives with her husband and two daughters, Camille and Lily, in Arizona.
Kingsolver uses her writing to address social and political issues that are important to her. Her working-class characters generally suffer from sociopolitical ills and discover they cannot succeed alone—they must unite with others to triumph over the obstacles they face. Kingsolver's intricate plots unfold quickly, and she alternates points of view between characters, employing humor and witty colloquial dialogue to engage the reader. Kingsolver frequently draws on her biology background to create parallels between the interconnections of the natural world and human society. The Bean Trees traces the journey of Taylor Greer as she travels west from her small Kentucky hometown. Taylor wants to escape the limited opportunities in her rural town and to establish a new life on her own terms. However, she soon becomes the reluctant caretaker of Turtle, a Cherokee toddler who has been molested and abused by her family. When Taylor and Turtle arrive in Tucson, Arizona, they meet Mattie, who owns Jesus is Lord Used Tires Company and shelters Latin American political refugees, and Lou Ann Ruiz, a single mother whose husband has left her and her child. Taylor takes a job at Mattie's tire store and she and Turtle room with Lou Ann and her son. Taylor's political consciousness is raised when she meets Estevan and Esperanza, Guatemalan refugees who were tortured in their native country. As she becomes aware of persecution in the world and gains affection for her new makeshift family in Tucson, Taylor learns to embrace human connections and engineers an unorthodox plan to adopt Turtle.
Holding the Line began when Kingsolver covered the Phelps Dodge Copper Company strike in Arizona in the early 1980s as a freelance journalist. She became intrigued by the stories of the families involved in the strike and used her interviews to tell the story through the eyes of the women family members. When the workers were forbidden to picket through a court injunction, the wives and daughters of the strikers organized and continued a female picket line. Though the copper mines eventually closed down, Kingsolver recounts how a group of working-class women, most of whom were scarcely educated homemakers with little political awareness, united to change their circumstances and became empowered community activists with a new sense of self-worth. Homeland and Other Stories features a title story about Great Mam, an aged Indian woman whose family takes her on a trip to see her birthplace. Great Mam arrives to find that the area has turned into a vulgar tourist trap and refuses to get out of the car. The protagonists of the other stories include a paroled kleptomaniac struggling to stay out of jail, a strike organizer who is jailed for her activism, and a young pregnant woman who reconciles with her pregnant mother. In Animal Dreams, Codi Noline returns from a lonely life in the city to her hometown of Grace, Arizona, to care for her father. The story's point of view alternates between Codi, her Alzheimer's-stricken father Homer, and letters from Codi's sister, a human rights activist in Nicaragua. Codi forms an attachment with Loyd, an Indian man she dated in high school, and when she learns a nearby factory is polluting Grace, she becomes involved in the crusade to save the town's orchards. Codi is accustomed to thinking of her sister as a hero, but by becoming involved in the community she becomes a local hero herself.
Pigs in Heaven, the sequel to The Bean Trees, revisits Taylor and Turtle. Six-year-old Turtle is brought to the attention of the Cherokee nation when she and Taylor help rescue a man who falls into the spillway at the Hoover Dam. As a result they appear on the Oprah Winfrey show, where Cherokee lawyer Annawake Fourkiller hears about Taylor's questionable adoption of the Cherokee Turtle and attempts to reunite her with her forebears. Taylor flees with Turtle but finally realizes she owes Turtle a connection with her heritage. They return and work out a compromise with the Cherokees that allows Turtle a connection to her adoptive mother and the Cherokee culture. The Poisonwood Bible was inspired by the Kingsolver family's sojourn in the Congo in the early 1960s. Kingsolver uses the six members of the fictional Price family to represent the different ways white people have viewed and affected the Congo. Nathan Price, a missionary, brings his wife and four daughters from Georgia to the Congo in order to bring God to the natives. He arrives determined to mold the village natives in his own image, remaining completely oblivious to the values and nuances of the native culture. Nathan represents the most reprehensible forces the West has brought to bear on the Congo. As Belgium and the United States drove the Congo into political and social chaos, so Nathan breaks apart and destroys his family. Kingsolver shows Nathan entirely through the eyes of his wife and daughters, who narrate the story in alternating chapters. Nathan's wife sees that he is headed toward disaster but is powerless to stop him. Rachel, a self-absorbed princess, observes her father's errors but never moves beyond concern for her own problems. The silent, partially paralyzed Adah recognizes Nathan for what he is and silently records his journey into madness. Adah's twin sister Leah worships her father at the beginning of the story, though later falls in love with a native man and stays in Africa to build a life and attempt to pay the psychic debts her country owes to the Congolese. The youngest child, Ruth May, is the innocent who ultimately pays the highest price for Nathan's madness.
Kingsolver is praised for her strong humor, vivid characterization, absorbing plots, and ability to combine colorful dialogue reminiscent of her native Kentucky with evocative imagery of the Southwest. Kingsolver's sociopolitical messages, however, are a point of contention among critics. Her books draw attention to issues including political torture in Latin America, industrial pollution in the United States, and the damage caused by American imperialism in Africa. Some view her messages as a strength that gives her work greater weight, while others consider them heavy-handed and obvious. Though critics admire her strong storytelling abilities, some consider her symbolism clumsy and her plots contrived in order to bring home her moral points. Because her stories usually support popular liberal social causes, some critics note that they present minimal conflict and rarely risk challenging the reader's point of view. Critics applaud Kingsolver's ability to create convincing, strong female characters, but some point out that her few male characters tend to be one-dimensional. While the merit of her sociopolitical commentary is much debated, Kingsolver's witty style, engaging plots, and vibrant characters are regarded by many as a notable contribution to popular literature.
OUR OWN ANTHOLOGY
Bruce Chatwin China, March 16, 1986 It is a cold, sunny Sunday in Yunnan. On the plain below Jade Dragon Mountain, the villagers of Beisha are letting off firecrackers to celebrate the building of a house, and the village doctor is holding a feast in his upper room, in honor of his firstborn grandson.The sun filters through the lattices, bounces off rafters hung with corncobs and lights up everyone's faces. Apart from us, almost all the guests are members of the Nakhi tribe. The Nakhi are the descendants of Tibetan nomads who, many centuries ago, exchanged their tents for houses and settled in the Lijiang Valley, to grow rice and buckwheat at an altitude of over 8,000 feet. Their religion was -- and surreptitiously still is -- a combination of Tibetan Lamaism, Chinese Taoism and a far, far older shamanistic belief: in the spirits of cloud and wind and pine. Jane Smiley North Carolina, Sept. 17, 1995 Driving or riding around Southern Pines, I often passed sights that would have stopped me dead anywhere else -- scarlet-coated fox hunters mounted and crossing the road in pursuit of the hounds, carriages and pairs of horses practicing the precision sport of dressage driving, steeplechase riders racing over jumps, a horse and carriage approaching the woods, event riders trotting up and down hills, getting fit for the coming season. Other sights were lovely, too: an unusual snowfall glinting on the branches of dogwoods hidden in the pines, a large exotic stand of bamboo, the sudden imposing white cupola of the Pinehurst Hotel at the end of its avenue of magnolias and longleaf pines. Thomas Keneally Australia, March 16, 1986 Ayers Rock lies close enough to the geographic center of Australia to make it the supreme symbol of that hinterland known as the Outback. In a continent as large as the continental United States, it is therefore a suitable objective for a traveler, being a vast and satisfying node to behold. It has always been my fancy to think of it as a kind of continental navel, the point at which the aboriginal demigods, the ancestor-heroes, half human and half animal, cut the umbilical cord connecting earth to heaven. Any traveler will certainly fall prey to similar fable-making there, by the red-orange bulk of Ayers Rock, under an immense sky of electric blue. That is an extraordinary aspect of the Rock. You can stand in Yosemite and, despite its magnitude and its splendor, know that it is all a geological wonder wrought by glaciers. But you cannot stand by Uluru without feeling it is the greatest of mythic beasts, without becoming in this desert place a brother to Ahab on the flanks of Leviathan. Chang-rae Lee thailand, May 14, 2000 The masseuses rub us down like roasting squabs with a cool, tingling turmeric-laced exfoliation, and when I glance over at Michelle I see she's a brilliant hue of yellow-jacket yellow; she's absolutely gorgeous, transfigured, practically delectable, but I can hardly move. All I can muster is a fluttering gaze through the horseshoe-shaped face rest at the beautiful manicures of the masseuse, her toenails painted the same shade of dark magenta that flecks the tips of the white orchid blossoms floating in the bowl of scented water between her feet. After we're done on the front side we're asked to sit up, for the yogurt rub. I expect the curds to be cool, but they're very warm, nearly hot, and soon we're covered, basted. The masseuses leave, to let us sit, absorb. We're spiced, creamy. The smell is intensely rich, alive, as fragrant as any curry we've eaten so far. Michelle mutters, ''I'm hungry,'' and I realize I am ravenous. I quell a feline urge to lick my forearms. We shower and then bathe, and off we run again, to the beach, for a plate of spicy fried rice and a fiery curry pot, desperate for more of the heat inside. Francine Prose Czech Republic, March 5, 1995 The teenage wedding guests assembling at the pink castle at Cervena Lhota giggle anxiously when they see one another in their period costumes. The scared, slightly goofy groom and his pals sport top hats, long hair, black frock coats. Renaissance princes, Hapsburg dandies, Sergeant Pepper's Band, they're working-class kids from the nearby southern Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice, known throughout the Czech Republic as the home of Budvar beer....The pale bride, in white satin, drifts away from the rowdy group to gaze at the shell-pink 16th-century chateau. The castle could have been plucked from the top of a giant's wedding cake, which may explain its popularity as a marriage setting for couples who come from as far away as Prague, a two-hour drive to the north. The bride studies the rosy castle, the glassy lake and green willows. The lovely scene, Prince Charming: it's everything she has been promised. Alberto Moravia Africa, Oct. 7, 1984 I have finished rereading ''Heart of Darkness'' and put it in my suitcase. Now I am reading another book on the Congo of earlier times: ''Stanley's Way'' by Thomas Sterling. While I am reading this book, I arrive at Kisangani, once known as Stanleyville. From the deck, leaning over the rail with the other passengers, I see the dock, the usual cranes, the usual piles of crates and packages, the usual loafers who look like policemen and customs officers and the usual customs officers and policemen who look like loafers. The gangplanks are thrown down; all the passengers get off. We get off, too. We have reached the end of our voyage, as in ''Heart of Darkness,'' as in ''Lord Jim.'' But we know we will find neither Kurtz nor Lord Jim, neither the bad colonialist nor the good. What will we find then? Cynthia Ozick Stately Home (Visiting Hrs. MWF, 10-3) Sept. 12, 1993 This is the house of Sir Reginald Thynne. He let his cash run out and the public in. Josephine Humphreys SOUTH CAROLINA, March 12, 1989 My house was built in 1838 by a writer-historian-physician, a Unionist who wrote ''Traditions and Reminiscences of the American Revolution, Chiefly in the South.'' Of equal interest to me is a more recent owner, a writer-historian-transsexual who restored the house during the 1960's; she wrote ''Man Into Woman.'' In my yard is a free-standing piece of brick wall with a window in it, relic of a burned kitchen-house dating from 1750, and an elaborate pet cemetery with little statues, dating from 1965. That's a rich history, I figure. Complicated and mysterious. Peter Ackroyd Egypt, Oct. 2, 1988 Yet even here one cannot forget the desert. Like the faces of Ramses II outside the temple at Abu Simbel, it is always there, always pitiless -- it is the region of death, the region of blankness, the region that the stone temples are set to defy for eternity. Michael Cunningham New York City, Sept. 16, 2001 Gansevoort Street, a dark and melancholy beauty, runs its modest course from east to west in downtown Manhattan's desolate riverfront neighborhood and empties into the opaque waters of the Hudson. It was, for most of its life, merely remote and sinister; it is now remote, sinister and fashionable. In that regard, it could probably exist nowhere else. Barbara Kingsolver Canary Islands, May 17, 1992 The other six islands have airports now; Tenerife and Gran Canaria are reasonable tourist destinations for Europeans in a hurry. But the traveler who wishes to approach or escape La Gomera takes the sea road, as Columbus did. I am such a traveler, in no particular hurry on a bright Saturday. I've been told dolphins like to gambol in the waves in these waters, and that sighting them brings good luck. The sun on the pointed waves is hard as chipped flint but I stare anyway, waiting for a revelation....The blue cliffs of La Gomera seem close enough to Tenerife to reach by means of a strong backstroke. It's hard to imagine living on islands this small, in plain view of other land, and never being stirred to go to sea. Suddenly the dolphins appear, slick and dark, rolling like finned inner tubes in the Atlantic. Saul Bellow Paris, March 13, 1983 Until 1939 Paris was the center of a great international culture, open to Spaniards, Russians, Italians, Rumanians, Americans, to the Picassos, Diaghilevs, Modiglianis, Brancusis and Pounds at the glowing core of the Modernist art movement. It remained to be seen whether the fall of Paris in 1940 had only interrupted this creativity. Would it resume when the defeated Nazis had gone back to Germany? There were those who suspected that the thriving international center had been declining during the 30's, and some believed that it was gone for good. I was among those who came to investigate, part of the first wave. The blasts of war had no sooner ended than thousands of Americans packed their bags to go abroad. Among these eager travelers, poets, painters and philosophers were vastly outnumbered by the restless young, students of art history, cathedral lovers, refugees from the South and the Midwest, ex-soldiers on the G.I. Bill, sentimental pilgrims, as well as by people, no less imaginative, with schemes for getting rich. A young man I had known in Minnesota came over to open a caramel-corn factory in Florence. Adventurers, black marketeers, smugglers, would-be bon vivants, bargain hunters, bubbleheads -- tens of thousands crossed on old troopships seeking business opportunities, or sexual opportunities, or just for the hell of it. Damaged London was severely depressed, full of bomb holes and fire weed, whereas Paris was unhurt and about to resume its glorious artistic and intellectual life. Muriel Spark Abroad March 18, 1984 Abroad is peculiar names above the shops. Strange, too, the cookery and the cops. The people Prattle with tongues there, they rattle Inscrutable money, and with foreign eyes Follow your foreign eccentricities. Sue Miller AFRICA, March 4, 2001 In Zanzibar, we are staying at a hotel at the edge of the old part of the city -- Stone Town -- with rooms that look out directly over the ocean. The city itself seems enormous and very civilized by contrast to Lamu, the shops and clothing more modern, the night life more varied. But on our first morning there, I'm reminded of the similarities that underlie these differences. I'm up early on my terrace, sharing my roll with a greedy crow, when I see a boat putter by slowly, laden with so many men that it sits precariously deep in the water. One by one, over a wide circle, they jump in, fully clothed. It's only slowly that I understand that each of them must be holding the edge of an immense net. Once the whole thing is spread out, they begin swimming toward each other, splashing the water in front of them to drive the fish forward. It takes almost an hour to close the circle. When they pull the net up into the boat, I can see in the early morning light the silvery glint of what they've caught. Kingsley Amis London, Oct. 5, 1986 My local, so local that even I can reach it on foot, is called The Queen's, commemorating not the present sovereign but Victoria. It stands on a street corner in a nice middle-class bit of north London, just up the hill from the zoo in Regent's Park. A pleasant stretch of grassland adjoins it, but you can't see much from the pub for the red, bottle-green and turquoise stained-glass windows. Except for a couple of panes, these are as old as the building (from about 1820), their age revealed by the distorted, as well as colored, image they give of outside. They are pretty in themselves, and they dim the daylight, as required in a pub. W.S. Merwin Baja Calif., March 3, 1991 Late in the afternoon, some of the sea birds make their last dives for fish, and the pelicans resume their formations as though they were about to depart on a long journey. A pair of frigate birds dives again and again to within inches of the surface, trying to catch fish as they leap into the air. Then they gather with a dozen more frigate birds wheeling and playing in the thermals above the heated slopes of the hill just west of the bay. As the sun goes down, the sky and the water both turn a deep turquoise. Something splashes far out on the water. At the end of the bay the mountains are becoming shadows. I stand watching as though none of it might be there when I look again. Caroline Alexander South Georgia Island, Sept. 16, 2001 On the beach below, king penguin chicks, almost reaching the three-foot height of adults but covered with long, fluffy brown feathers, stand uncertainly facing the sea or woebegone in the shallows. Early explorers referred to the penguin young as ''the woolly penguin,'' fancying them to be an entirely different species. The peculiar three-year breeding cycle of the kings ensures that penguins at all life stages can be found at any given time at a single rookery. Until their first molt, at about 12 months, the chicks are not only odd-looking but also unwaterproofed. The surf breaks and pounds on the beach, the sea calls -- and the brown penguins look on in bafflement; they know this somehow pertains to them, and yet, when they venture to explore, the result is wet-feathered misery. Alexander Stille Malta, March 1, 1992 Imposing walls of corraline limestone are the first things you see at Mdina, a fortified city that encapsulates much of Malta's later history. Although its name is Arab, Mdina was made the island's capital by the Romans. Like many Roman towns, it was built, for defensive purposes, on a commanding promontory in the middle of the island, from which you can see all the way to the sea. Just outside Mdina, in the adjacent town of Rabat (which means ''suburb'' in Arabic), are the remains of a Roman villa, with handsome floor mosaics, including a depiction of autumn as a bird plucking the fruits of the harvest from the arms of a young, wild-haired boy. There is also a small museum with a handful of beautiful pieces, chief among them a finely sculptured, translucent marble head of a maenad. A short walk away, there are two sets of early Christian catacombs, one of which, the Catacombs of St. Paul, was built near the grotto where the saint, who was shipwrecked on Malta in A.D. 60 and introduced Christianity to the island, is thought to have stayed. Jonathan Raban Hawaii, Sept. 14, 1997 What I hadn't realized was how very closely the world of the resort hotel resembles that of the preschool. The young women who run the concierge desk are the controlling grown-ups; they set the curriculum and sort out squabbles. The indignant 55-year-old guest, in his beach romperwear, with bulging face and shrilling voice, is pure 200-pound toddler in a snit. Anita Desai Delhi, Oct. 1, 1989 It is not a sight that would have met the Mogul emperor's eyes. He would have left the fort on elephant back, in a painted howdah, to parade through the nearby Chandni Chowk, the bazaar with the romantic name: Silver Street. There are still shops there that sell silk saris, gold jewelry and heavy Indian perfumes of rose, jasmine and musk, but there are no other signs of opulence left. And the trams that used to run its length in my childhood have disappeared in the thundering traffic of bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, lumbering buses, ancient taxis and the auto-rickshaws that expertly thread their way through traffic jams. To recover one's breath, one can step into the winding side streets that are still overhung by old houses as walled and shut as fortresses, but which open onto unexpected courtyards and verandas that speak of a more spacious age. John McGahern Ireland, May 14, 1995 I like Galway in all these festivals and weathers, but what I like best is the variety that this small city affords -- the islands, weirs, harbor, the ocean, the university, canals, the once salmon-rich Corrib, the bridges from where the small trout can be seen swaying or still in the tidal pools out from the arches, the ungainly carnival of swans huddled by the river's mouth or sailing proudly on the rising tide. Joseph Brodsky Postcard From the U.S. March 18, 1984 I've seen the Atlantic: pretty but frantic. I've faced the Pacific: nothing specific. As for the continent, I'm not yet on to it. David Guterson Washington State, May 15, 1994 The San Juans, like all islands, seem unreal to me now. What remains vivid is madrono trees, the way the water falls to deeper greens, the low, true flight of cormorants and finally the golden light of the islands, full and forever beckoning. Mavis Gallant Paris, Oct. 4, 1987 What did Balzac mean when he told his readers that the smart thing to eat was ''mufflings''? He recommended it, or them, as part of a chic repast to be taken early in the day, served on a bare table, in ''confusion and gracious disorder.'' On no account was this refreshment to be called a meal: in 1829 the word ''déjeuner'' was a thing of the past, and only rustics spread a cloth before 6 in the evening. Elegant nourishment consisted of eggs, salad, pilaf, strawberries, tea, soda water and mufflings. ''Mufflings'' could be a winter dish, a mixture of muffler and whiting: merlan en colere, biting its own tail, on a bed that looks like wool -- purée of sorrel, perhaps. It may just stand for winter food, dispensed in the confusion and gracious disorder of winter strikes, winter rain, unexpected snow (snow is never expected) -- food that is remote from nouvelle cuisine, which is dying, but not fast enough. V. S. Pritchett Seville, Oct. 7, 1984 The ordinary Sevillano is a natural fountain of wit and ingenious jokes; he longs for you to cap them, to vie with his vanity -- even to the point of putting on a poker-faced show of sly stupidity as he speaks. You'll never match him, for you haven't his native gift of momentarily taking leave of himself and becoming a little universe. P. D. James Salem, Mass., March 17, 1985 I came to Salem half expecting a city still darkened by the memory of old cruelties, old terror, and that atavistic memory is, indeed, still potent. But what I discovered was one of the most interesting and attractive cities in America. It has everything I look for in a town. Like an old lady who knows that her best days are over, it wears its beauty proudly and is careful of its past. The old part offers at every turn something of interest or beauty to delight the eye. Mary Lee Settle Essay, Oct. 6, 1985 I have seen the coasts of England and of France together, and the whole of that fought-over channel where men waited for the wind to stand fair for France 41 years ago for D-Day and over 500 years ago for Agincourt. It is a blue-green map of history. Derek Walcott Trinidad, Oct. 5, 1986 There are travelers who may find nothing in Port of Spain but noise, uncertainty, confusion, who have a right to hate Carnival and to avoid it, and then there are others who may sit on a bench and teach their hearts how to look, as I am still teaching mine. William Boyd Amsterdam, May 15, 1994 Certainly it can be beautiful. There are no great vistas; the city is revealed to you in a kind of sustained tracking shot as you saunter the curving rings of the canals. And it is a form of domestic beauty, too, on a human scale, to do with houses rather than with piazzas or palaces. I remember walking beside Singel canal, looking over at the tall narrow buildings on the other side, thinking that I had never seen so many beautiful-looking houses, side by side, all different, all as individual as their gables -- pointed, stepped, necked or belled... . But Amsterdam's canalside dwellings are profligate in their abundance, each one with its own special charm or elegance -- scarlet shutters, a transom with rococo tracery, a cartouche with a swan. The litany in your head goes: ''Yes, I could live there, and there too, oh, and there definitely, and...'' And that is the key, I think. One does feel one could live there. Brian Moore San Francisco, Oct. 4, 1987 I have visited San Francisco at least once a year for the last 20 years, yet the trigger of memory still evokes that pristine vision: an ocean liner moving out into the Pacific against the bare hills of Sausalito and, above it, rising from the fog, mystic, wonderful as the sword Excalibur, the graceful red span of the bridge. And I, standing on the wharf on that autumnal day, beside a kiosk that was offering out-of-date Australian newspapers, told myself that now I was as far from home as I had ever been, at the farthermost tip of the Western world, the gateway to an Orient known to me only from books and films and dreams. Joseph Heller Oslo, March 17, 1985 On the walls are drawings of actors, authors, journalists and other individuals of eminence who have been regular patrons over the years. An American who looks intently will identify a stunning portrait of Lauren Bacall and another of Marlon Brando at his most charismatic -- and he will be mistaken. The resemblances are vivid, but all of the pictures are of Norwegians, and each time a new face is added to this gallery of fame, which happens only rarely, there is a big ceremony. Simon Schama france, Oct. 20, 1991 But for the time being, Vaux is still enfolded in miraculous serenity. In such a place, through the cooing of doves and the breeze rippling the water, it is still possible to hear the sad sweet music of time. Penelope Lively england, Oct. 1, 1989 The northeast corner of Gloucestershire is stone country -Cotswold stone, oolitic limestone. What lies beneath the soil is reflected above in the golden glow of cottages, churches, manor houses, the dry stone walls that snake up the hillsides. There is no building material to match this limestone: it reflects and absorbs light in a way that perfectly matches the shifting, changing moods of the countryside. A wall or spire can burn apricot on a summer evening, fade to a dying cream in the dusk or drain of color to match the grays of a winter morning. Mary Taylor Simeti Sicily, May 15, 1994 The last leg of our journey takes us south along the volcano's western flank, where the Bronte Red, said to be the most flavorful pistachio on the market, is produced. The cultivated pistachio is grafted onto the wild terebinth, a related species that is strong enough to force its roots through the lava before it has broken up into soil. The trees are as tormented as the lava itself, pale gray branches, barren still, writhing against piles of purple black rock, comforted by pale pink clouds of flowering almonds.