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Originally published July 28, 2013 at 5:08 AM | Page modified July 28, 2013 at 7:20 AM

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Solnit’s ‘The Faraway Nearby’: stories that explain and sustain

Rebecca Solnit’s precise, lyrical new book, “The Faraway Nearby,” is a memoir of stories that have helped the author understand her place in the world and in her life.

Special to The Seattle Times

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‘The Faraway Nearby’

by Rebecca Solnit

Viking, 259 pp., $25.95

Story, life and death. Every part of our existence is intertwined with the world around us. Out of these interactions, between lovers, between strangers, between parent and child, we try to understand our place in this beautiful, confusing world we inhabit. One of the best and most useful ways to achieve this knowledge is through stories, both our own and others’ that we learn.

In her thoughtful, mystical, and yet truly grounded, new book, “The Faraway Nearby,” Rebecca Solnit has written a paean to stories and the power they contain. As the National Book Critic Circle Award winner writes, “Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.”

Beginning with 100 pounds of apricots she inherited from her mother, Solnit weaves a memoir of stories that helps her understand her place and her life. We learn of her challenging relationship with her mother, of how an Icelandic labyrinth helped center her, and of how she vanished into books on her path to becoming a writer. But her story is not just hers alone. We learn of the young Che Guevara’s time among lepers, of Tang dynasty artist Wu Daozi, who disappeared and escaped into a painting he made, and of the haunting story of Atagutaluk, an Inuit woman’s desperate tale of cannibalism.

Reading “The Faraway Nearby” feels at times like a stream of consciousness, as Solnit bounces around time and place, advancing, retreating, reconsidering, and reweaving. Her writing is so precise and so lyrical, though, that the stories merge and coalesce into a beautiful whole, creating a whole new story for each of us to appreciate and learn from.

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