Home is many people and places and languages, some separated by oceans.
Nina Mingya Powles first learned to swim in Borneo – where her mother was born and her grandfather studied freshwater fish. There, the local swimming pool became her first body of water. Through her life there have been others that have meant different things, but have still been, in their own way, home: from the wild coastline of New Zealand to a pond in northwest London.
This lyrical collection of interconnected essays explores the bodies of water that separate and connect us, as well as everything from migration, food, family, earthquakes and the ancient lunisolar calendar to butterflies. In powerful prose, Small Bodies of Water weaves together personal memories, dreams and nature writing. It reflects on a girlhood spent growing up between two cultures, and explores what it means to belong.
Nina Mingya Powles is a writer, editor and publisher from Aotearoa New Zealand. She is the author of three poetry collections, including Magnolia, which was shortlisted for both the Ondaatje Prize and the Forward Prize; and Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai. In 2019 she won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Small Bodies of Water, and in 2018 she won the Women Poets' Prize. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon. Nina was born in Aotearoa, partly grew up in China, and now lives in London.
"A remarkable book [...] Its language trembles on the brink of poetry; these sentences have surety to their rhythms, subtlety to their weightings. Beautifully, dreamily, intricately, it explores movement, migration and memory. Identity, here, is experienced as liquid, as fluent. Small Bodies of Water was the winner of the inaugural Nan Shepherd Prize, and it's my belief that Shepherd would have loved this book – and would have wanted to walk and swim with Nina, talking of all that her book brings to the surface"
– Robert Macfarlane
"Nina Mingya Powles is a distinctive new voice: attentive and tender. Her experience of belonging to many places is one that so many of us can relate to. This book is a beautiful personal journey through plants and sea creatures, food and language [...] A gorgeous read"
– Amy Liptrot
"Elegant, understated, urgent and nourishing, this is a book that gives shape to the many intimate waters that connect us, to languages loved, lost and longed for, to the lands that honour us by giving us a home. With poetic precision, Nina Mingya Powles shows us what nature writing can be, braiding place, food, family, migration and all their legacies. This is non-fiction at its most dynamic, its most transporting. I will keep this book close by and return to it often"
– Jessica J. Lee
"So cool and crystalline, but with deep currents of association shifting like tides beneath"
– Melissa Harrison
"Nature writing lovers will adore this collection of lyrical essays [...] Traversing Borneo to New Zealand to North London, it explores what bodies of water have meant to [Powles] while navigating girlhood and growing up"
– Evening Standard, Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year
"Small Bodies of Water gave me such a longing for travel. It is so full of texture and taste and different kinds of light [...] Nina Mingya Powles takes very small moments and details and skilfully imbues them with poignancy and meaning. It feels like a renewed form of nature writing, in which nature is not necessarily to the fore but nonetheless ever-present; in which nature is a medium for remembering and discovering"
– Sara Baume
"Vividly connected to nature [...] Captivating [...] Evocative literary sketches of Powles' life are drawn thoughtfully together [...] Mesmerising [...] Tender, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book"
– Alycia Pirmohamed, Big Issue
"A tender and tactile meditation on the elements that hold us together and keep us apart, Small Bodies of Water is a luminous, flowing book. Nina Mingya Powles's mind shimmers"
– Seán Hewitt
"A shimmering, poetic masterpiece"
– Time Out
"A hauntingly beautiful work – as deep and varied as the bodies of water it explores – and just as affecting. Powles writes of the body, the self and the natural world in ways I've not experienced before; full of raw and glistening truth. This book is exquisite and perfectly formed and reflective and it leaves ripples on your insides like the sea. The writing is off the scale"
– Kerri Ní Dochartaigh