From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, by bus, train and ferry, are Doreen Cunningham and her young son Max, in pursuit of a wild hope: that their family of two can make it by themselves.
Doreen first visited Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, as a young journalist reporting on climate change among indigenous whaling communities. There, she joined the spring whale hunt under the neverending Arctic light, watching for bowhead whales and polar bears, drawn deeply to an Iñupiaq family and their culture amid the disappearing ice.
Years later, plunged into sudden poverty and isolation after becoming a single parent, Doreen embarks on an extraordinary journey: following the grey whale migration all the way north to the Iñupiaq family that took her in, where grey and bowhead whales meet at the melting apex of our planet.
Soundings is the story of a woman reclaiming her life, mile by mile; a child growing to love an ocean that is profoundly endangered; and a mother learning from another species how to parent in a time of unprecedented change. Intrepid, brave and breathtaking, her travels will take you to the ends of the earth, alongside the whales that call it home.
Doreen Cunningham is an Irish-British writer born in Wales. After studying engineering she worked briefly in climate-related research at NERC and in storm modelling at Newcastle University, before turning to journalism. She has worked for the BBC World Service variously as an international news presenter, editor, producer and reporter, since 2000. She won the RSL Giles St Aubyn Award 2020 and was shortlisted for the Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writers Award 2021 for Soundings, her first book.
"Soundings got under my skin. It was as if I'd joined Doreen and her young son on their search for grey whales, and we'd been through something important together. I finished it in tears"
– Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun and The Instant
"Doreen's is a thrilling, passionate and tenderhearted adventure. I read this book in one sitting, and couldn't sleep that night – my mind was still filled with her extraordinary endurance, her wild spirit."
– Helen Jukes, author of A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings
"What a voice! What a book! Pounding with the power of thrashing flukes, shivering with Arctic ice, yet suffused with rare human warmth. A book worthy of its mighty subjects."
– Charles Foster, author of Being a Human
"A striking, brave and often lyrical book that defies easy interpretation [...] Her sensuous descriptions of grey whales and humpbacks provide some of the book's richest passages [...] She is no Ahab; it is not a single whale to which she is drawn, but the collective, and in the end the whales act as stepping-stones, bridges to human relationships on her journey, notably with other women and mothers. What at first seems a reckless, near-mystical pursuit of an imagined being leads her to find a human pod of her own."
– Edward Posnett, Guardian
"Beautiful [...] Through such delicate merging of environmental and individual trauma, Soundings births a raw, intimate narrative about nature's capacity to mend – and justifies its place alongside modern nature writing classics, such as Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk"
– India Bourke, New Statesman
"Beautiful and brave, and startling in its raw emotional honesty."
– Neil Ansell, author of Deep Country and The Circling Sky
"This stunning book blends nature writing of the most urgent kind with precise and poetic observation of human tribulation and the interconnectedness of all things. Fresh, brave and unique"
– Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places
"A beautiful account of trauma, community and nature's capacity to heal, this book takes its place alongside modern classics of the genre such as Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk."
– New Statesman, best books of 2022
"Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured."
– Ramita Navai, author of City of Lies
"Cunningham's scientific knowledge and gorgeous prose take us on an extraordinary journey as she forges a remarkable connection with these astonishing creatures and issues an impassioned plea for our shared futures. Soundings is a completely unique, unforgettable book."
– Erica Wagner
"An intimate and fascinating story of one woman's journey with our most charismatic species"
– Mark Boyle, author of The Way Home
"Beautifully written, insightful and gripping"
– Daniel Lavelle, author of Down and Out
"In this fascinating book, Doreen Cunningham takes us on an intimate journey through a world already changed by climate change. As her own travel companions become ours – the indigenous people of Utqiagvik, the whales of the Pacific, the world's scientists and her little son Max – we learn that it is only by coming together as people and species that we will be able to navigate our way ahead in the vast troubled waters of our shared future."
– Sjón, author of The Whispering Muse
"This book is a gorgeous journey. Cunningham guides us elegantly from Mexico to Alaska, riding along with wild grey whales. And she excels as well at bringing the reader along on her personal journey of motherhood, struggle, and epiphany. You will be glad you've joined her."
– Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
"A raw and rapturous work of nature writing. Or is it memoir? Adventure journalism? Pop science? Climate cri de coeur? This foul-mouthed, gimlet-eyed, big-hearted chimera of a book is all of those – and more"
– Robert Moor, bestselling author of On Trails: An Exploration
"An original, unexpectedly pacey blend of memoir and nature writing. Whether observing how the ceteceans are threatened by global warming, delving into the lives of the Inupiaq or sharing personal struggles, Cunningham brings a sensitivity to the page. This is a moving riposte to those who offer atomised perspectives on the natural world"
– Jini Reddy, Metro
"What a woman and what a tale! It is a rare gift to be taken on a journey by a single mother with her child and the particular perspective that offers. This is a story about living and loving at the sharp end of climate change, and learning to listen, and wait. I loved this book. Sensitive, sincere, and heart-warming."
– Sarah Thomas, author of The Raven's Nest