A flame of butterflies

Flight Behaviour, by Barbara Kingsolver, reviewed by Kitty Webster

January 14, 2013
2 min read

For her latest novel Barbara Kingsolver highlights the transnational, biospheric and personal consequences of climate change through exploring the life of a young, disaffected farmer’s wife in Tennessee. Dellarobia Turner’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses what she believes to be a miracle – an entire valley that seems to be alight in an orange flame. In fact it’s the entire migratory population of North American monarch butterflies.

Dellarobia’s attempt to understand how this has happened brings her into conflict with her family and her community. The patriarchal relationship with her in-laws that she challenges at home is coupled with her struggles against the multiple levels of exploitation of consumerism. Too poor to buy Christmas presents for her children, Dellarobia ‘looked over the bins of tinselly junk and felt despair … There had to be armies of factory workers making this slapdash stuff, underpaid people cranking out things for underpaid people to buy and use up, living their lives mostly to cancel each other out. A worldwide entrapment of bottom feeders.’ Disaffection with an oppressive and monotonous home life is a synecdoche for a more general struggle with the world Dellarobia sees around her.

Kingsolver’s thoughtful crafting of the story questions the motives driving climate change denial in a precarious world. The failure of the US media to provide accurate information in favour of advertising profits and viewer rating is tackled alongside the inaccessibility of academic science for those in the US who are likely to be most affected by climate change – the rural poor and migrants fleeing various catastrophic disasters.

The scandal of market-based responses and the dilemmas of the daily grind of poverty are also weaved into the novel as Dellarobia determinedly fights against logging the mountain – the butterflies’ home – for quick cash: ‘If we log the mountain, then the trees are gone. But the debt isn’t. Does it make sense to turn everything upside down to make one payment?’

The narrative is compelling, yet not always subtle, and the imagery and religious symbolism feel somewhat overdone by the end. But the integrity of Kingsolver’s environmental and political messages makes Flight Behaviour a rich and captivating read.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History


3