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When I was pregnant with my daughter at the beginning of the new millennium, I found myself reaching time and again for Sandra Steingraber’s beautiful book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. The mix of personal voice and critical commentary enthralled me. I eagerly followed the month-by-month account of her own pregnancy and shared her concerns about the industrial toxins that find their way into amniotic fluid and breast milk. While the tone of the book was deeply personal, Steingraber the environmental scientist reminded me of the myriad ways that protecting our babies is a societal-scale concern.
Alejandro Frid attempts a similar mix of identities in A World for My Daughter. A marine ecologist by training and a social justice advocate by vocation, Frid promises readers an ecologist’s search for optimism written as a series of letters to his daughter, Twyla Bella. As an author and academic deeply engaged in shifting the environmental narrative beyond doom and gloom, and instilling kids with a sense of hope, I looked forward to immersing myself in Frid’s narrative.
Frid’s deep feelings and his passion for his daughter shine through this book. “Today, I am flooded by images of you,” he writes. “At three months old you laid on the moss, under the canopy of the spruce and pine forest near our home in the Yukon, arms outstretched by your head, your gaze skyward.” His frustration and despair about the state of the industrialized world, however, threatens to overwhelm the optimism he sets out to find.
Where A World for My Daughter misses its mark is in its organization and structure. The idea of writing to Twyla Bella is compelling, but rather than adhering to that format, a disparate range of writing styles compete for the reader’s attention. In some cases, sections from Frid’s previously published work are inserted but not referenced, such as an excerpt from an interview with Kevin Anderson that he wrote for the November/December 2012 issue of The Environmental Magazine.
The result of this cobbled-together material is that the intention of writing to Twyla Bella feels like artifice. The stories Frid wants to tell don’t fit the letter format he has chosen to tell them. This is most obvious in chapter six, which begins with “Dear Twyla Bella,” but then proceeds with 17 pages that are not written to her. Readers are presented with: Frid’s reaction to the muzzling of government scientists under Canada’s former prime minister Stephen Harper; an entire letter to philanthropist Warren Buffett; an explanation of the relationship between fossil fuels, climate change, and ocean acidification; another entire letter in which Frid declines to interview for a job he applied for with the Smithsonian Institution; and more. Twyla Bella and any sense of optimism are sadly missing from that text.
Frid is an energetic writer and a man who has much to say about social justice and the challenges of living as a scientist and activist. A World for My Daughter might have benefited from a strong editor who could have helped craft a better structure for carrying the timely messages that Frid so desperately seeks to share with his daughter and the world.
A World for My Daughter: An Ecologist’s Search for Optimism
By Alejandro Frid
224 pp. Caitlin Press