Time song Journeys in search of a submerged land

Julia Blackburn

Book - 2019

"From the award-winning author of the memoir The Three of Us, a lyrical exploration--part travelogue and part history--of the area beneath the North Sea which, until 6,000 years ago, was home to a rich ecosystem and human settlement. Shortly after her husband's death, Julia Blackburn became fascinated with Doggerland, the stretch of land that once connected Great Britain to Europe but is now subsumed by the North Sea. She was driven to explore the lives of the people who lived there--studying its fossil record, as well as human artifacts that have been discovered near the area. Now, she brings her reader along on her journey across Great Britain and parts of Continental Europe, introducing us to the paleontologists, archaeologists..., fishermen, and fellow Doggerland enthusiasts she meets along the way. As Doggerland begins to come into focus, what emerges is a profound meditation on time, a sense of infinity as going backwards, and an intimation of the immensity of everything that has already passed through its time on earth and disappeared"--

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Subjects
Genres
Travel writing
Published
New York : Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin, Random House LLC [2019]
Language
English
Main Author
Julia Blackburn (author)
Other Authors
Enrique Brinkmann (illustrator)
Edition
First United States edition
Item Description
Includes index.
"Originally published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Vintage Publishing, Penguin Random House, UK, London in 2019"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
ix, 292 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
ISBN
9781101871676
  • Old time
  • Middle time
  • No time at all.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

What people think is lost never entirely leaves, posits novelist and biographer Blackburn (The Emperor's Lost Island) in this lyrical exploration of Doggerland, the country that until 6,000 years ago connected Britain with mainland Europe and now lies under the North Sea. Alternating chapters of prose with prose-poems she calls "time songs," Blackburn creates an impressionistic picture of a place that is both gone and yet still there, its landscape partly intact beneath the waves. "Trying to see through the fact of absence is what this book is mostly about," writes Blackburn, who also reflects on the recent loss of her beloved husband. Along the way, she visits with experts on Doggerland-related to the Danish word dag, meaning "dagger," which also gave the dogwood its name-and hikes through countryside near her home in England and elsewhere that resembles what Doggerland may have been like: icy in the winter, marshy in the summer. Like one of the scientists she meets on her quest, Blackburn believes life is a process that "does not begin with birth or end with death," but "is a trajectory in which there is no finite end." This sweet, sad book will leave its readers meditating on loss and timelessness. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Award-winning author Blackburn (Old Man Goya) brings her creative energy to the lost prehistoric worlds of northwestern Europe. Doggerland, a region now submerged beneath the North Sea, once connected Britain to continental Europe. Prehistoric humans, mammoths, and other Ice Age denizens once roamed over a landscape that appeared and disappeared over hundreds of thousands of years. In addition to the content, which itself is unique and rarely explored, the book's presentation is extraordinary. There are poems about natural processes and human evolution; seemingly tangential, personal narratives that arrive at an illuminating point; and informational yet highly readable scientific discussions, such as a vivid description of a Netsilik Eskimo hunting party. The text flows like water, almost dreamlike. Brinkmann's stylistic drawings, scattered throughout, resemble cave art. A series of Doggerland maps follows through the work, a chronological presentation illustrating the unrecognizable topography of 18,000 years ago up to the more familiar territory of 7,000 years ago. Those seeking a more straightforward work on the Ice Age may prefer Jamie Woodward's The Ice Age, but Blackburn offers a visionary, memorable account. VERDICT Exploring natural history as part of humanity, this unique, artistic, and original work will be enjoyed by a wide range of readers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/18/19.]--Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant P.L., IA

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A search for a lost land reveals secrets of prehistory.In the early 1990s, archaeologist Bryony Coles began research to find evidence of a submerged land bridge connecting Britain to Europe, a place she named Doggerland, styling it after other lands (England, Jutland) abutting the sea. Coles is one among many individualspaleontologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, fishermen, and fossil collectorswho shared their insights with Blackburn (Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske, 2015, etc.) as she engaged in a quest to discover Doggerland's past. Doggerland, she discovered, had been a solid landmass from 2.6 million years ago until melting ice and rising seas completely flooded it around 7,000 years ago. From a plethora of fossilsone researcher collected 150,000 kilos of bones, including 70,000 mammoth teeththe author learned that early in its history, the area had been a savannah, where mammoths, woolly rhinos, and mastodon elephants grazed. As the climate became colder, the landscape was transformed into tundra, to which the mammoth, with its shaggy covering of hair, was well adapted to survive. A dramatic temperature rise 11,500 years ago produced marshes, swamps, rivers, and woodlands and an enormous density and diversity of wildlife. Artifacts offer proof that the land was inhabited, as well, by humans: Neanderthals hunted and gathered until they abruptly disappeared, victims of violent and dramatic confrontations." They lived in settlements, able to form "a sedentary society," Coles told Blackburn, "because the food they needed for survival came to them." The author creates a lyrical narrative of her journey: deft portraits of the men and women she interviewed and poetic reflections on her discoveries, her husband's death, and the infinity of the past. Her narrative is more poetic, surely, than her 18 "Time Songs," whose rhythm and language are decidedly proselike. The book is illustrated with maps, and the songs are accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings, some evoking the fanciful style of Paul Klee, by Spanish painter Brinkmann, Blackburn's longtime friend.A sensitively rendered chronicle of discovery. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

'Oh,' I say casually, as if in answer to a question, 'I'm writing about a country called Doggerland. It's also known as North Sea Land because that's where it was, under what is now the North Sea. It emerged after the last Ice Age and with the warming of the climate it became a wonderfully fertile place of rivers and lakes, gently rounded hills and sheltered valleys, reed beds and salt marshes in the lowlands, trees on higher ground and a profusion of life: fish, birds, animals and humans as well. These were a people who left few traces of their passing. They hunted with weapons made from wood, bone or stone; they had canoes cut from the trunks of trees; they had dogs working with them and sometimes buried their dead alongside their dogs. But as the ice went on melting the sea levels rose dramatically - you can't believe how fast, it could be more than two metres within a century - so the land was inundated, familiar places submerged or made inaccessible. Seven thousand years ago, Doggerbank was still there as an island and then it too was gone.   'And,' I continue, carried forward by the idea of it all, 'I am also writing about what happened in this same area long before the last Ice Age. I go back to the first humans who were here, close to where I live: a cache of worked flints was found quite recently near a holiday camp and then a bit further up the coast there is the little flurry of footsteps fossilised in what was once the soft mud of a river estuary. Five people pottering about some nine hundred thousand years ago; they were probably collecting plants and shellfish.   'Mammoth,' I say, 'great herds of them moving across the grassy steppes when Britain was part of the Eurasian land mass. I've collected quite a lot of mammoth bones, along with those of other extinct creatures; it's best to go looking after a storm has scoured the edges of the cliffs to reveal whatever secrets they have been hiding, but I often forget to go then. I did pick up a lovely stone axehead just recently. It looks like nothing much until you hold it in your hand and feel how well it fits, how sharp it is.   'Of course I ask myself what on earth I think I'm doing, rattling around like a ghost in such distant landscapes of the past, and this is what might be the answer, or at least part of the answer. I am not especially afraid of my own death, but I am afraid of the death of forests and oceans, the contamination of water and air, the sense that we are heading towards a catastrophe from which there will be no escape. I comfort myself with the knowledge that this is nothing new: the climate has often shifted from extremes of heat to extremes of cold; oceans rising to cover the land and shrinking to reveal it in a different form; living creatures emerging in all their strangeness and determination to survive and some of them manage to hold on, but others do not.   'I wonder now if it makes more sense to imagine infinity going backwards in time, rather than forwards. When you look at it that way round, you no longer have the vague dread of what the future holds, instead there is the intimation of the enormity of everything that has gone before: a solemn procession of life in all its myriad forms moving steadily towards this present moment. You can almost hear the songs they are singing.   'There is something else. My husband died a few years ago. He has vanished and yet he remains close, beneath the surface as it were, so perhaps I am also trying to catch a glimpse of him within the great jumble of everything else that has been lost from our sight.' Excerpted from Time Song: Journeys in Search of a Submerged Land by Julia Blackburn All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.