What the peacock can do is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life. The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments.
In her nonfiction debut, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil explores the many places she has called home, from inhospitable plains to tall mountains in big sky country. No matter where she is transplanted, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship, even in the strange and the unlovely. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world's gifts.
Featuring exquisite colour illustrations by Fumi Nakamura throughout, World of Wonders is a magnificent bestiary: an unforgettable book of sustenance, resilience and joy.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four collections of poems, including Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Her writing appears in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine and Tin House. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is a professor of English and creative writing in the University of Mississippi's MFA program. This is her first work of nonfiction.
"Within two pages, nature writing feels different and fresh and new. Nezhukumatathil has written a timely story about love, identity and belonging [...] We are losing the language and the ability to see and understand the wondrous things around us. And our lives are impoverished by this process [...] This book demands we find the eyes to see and the heart to love such things once more. It is a very fine book indeed, truly full of wonder."
– James Rebanks, New York Times Book Review
"An unusual and captivating memoir [...] Nezhukumatathil exudes a rare zest for life, and her inherent love for the natural world shines through. World of Wonders is a thing of wonder, the book that most took me by surprise this year"
– Jini Reddy, Wainwright Prize-shortlisted author of Wanderland
"Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is the first book to make me feel like a firefly as much as it reminds me I'm still a black boy playing in Central Mississippi woods. The book walks. It sprints. It leaps. Most importantly, the book lingers in a world where power, people, and the literal outside wrestle painfully, beautifully. This book is a world of wonders. This book is about to shake the Earth."
– Kiese Laymon
"Sometimes we need teachers who remind us how to be flabbergasted and gobsmacked and flummoxed and enswooned by the wonders of this earth. How to be in stupefied and devotional love to the wonders of this earth. How to be in love with this, our beloved earth. Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is as good and generous a teacher as one could ever ask for. This book enraptures with its own astonishments and reveries while showing us how to be enraptured, how to revere. Which, again, is showing us how to be in love. I can think of nothing more important. Or wonderful."
– Ross Gay, author of The Books of Delights
"From its gorgeous illustrations to its unusual combination of lyrical nature writing and memoir, World of Wonders is hands-down one of the most beautiful books of the year."
– NPR "Best Books of 2020"
"In thirty bewitching essays, Nezhukumatathil spotlights natural astonishments raining from monsoon season in India to clusters of fireflies in western New York, each one a microcosm of joy and amazement. With her ecstatic prose and her rapturous powers of insight, Nezhukumatathil proves herself a worthy spiritual successor to the likes of Mary Oliver and Annie Dillard, setting the bar high for a new generation of nature writers."
"Should the wonderful David Attenborough ever retire, my hope is someone at BBC has read the work of Aimee Nezhukumatathil [...] What a lovely book this is, gentle in its pacing, well-illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, and quietly subversive in the way she channels its gusts of joy."
– Literary Hub
"Nezhukumatathil's investigations, enhanced by Nakamura's vividly rendered full-color illustrations, range across the world, from a rapturous rendering of monsoon season in her father's native India to her formative years in Iowa, Kansas, and Arizona, where she learned from the native flora and fauna that it was common to be different [...] The writing dazzles with the marvel of being fully alive."
– Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"These are the praise songs of a poet working brilliantly in prose. Each essay compresses a great deal of art and truth into a small space, whether about fireflies or flamingos, monkeys or monsoons, childhood or motherhood, or the trials and triumphs of living with brown skin in a dominant white world. You will not find a more elegant, exuberant braiding of natural and personal history."
– Scott Russell Sanders, author of The Way of Imagination
"The nature writing we have been exposed to has been overwhelmingly male and white, which is just one reason that Aimee Nezhukumatathil's latest essay collection, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments is a breath of fresh air [...] What makes her work shine is its joyful embrace of difference, revealing that true beauty resides only in diversity."
– San Francisco Chronicle
"World of Wonders is a stunning union of biography, poetry, philosophy, and science; it is imbued with a love for her readers and for the natural world, and with a hope that people of color will feel more seen in nature writing [...] With a sense of amazement for the creatures around us, Aimee makes an ardent and artistic case for a compassionate ethics grounded in a deeper understanding – and love – of nature."
– The Rumpus
"Reading World of Wonders, it's clear that Nezhukumtathil is a poet. These essays sing with joy and longing – each focusing on a different natural wonder, all connected by the thread of Nezhukumtathil's curiosity and her identification with the world's beautiful oddities [...] It's a heartwarming, poignant, and often funny collection, enlivened by Fumi Nakamura's dreamy illustrations."
"Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is a gorgeous collection of essays that ruminate on flora, fauna, and what they can teach us about life itself. Moving between vignettes from Nezhukumatathil's life and her ponderings on nature, World of Wonders is a one-of-a-kind book you won't want to miss this year."
"Nezhukumatathil applies her skill as a poet to a scintillating series of short essays on nature. She takes up topics that fascinate her – the bizarre-looking potoo birds of Central and South America; corpse flowers, with their rich colors and acrid odor – and connects them to her own experience of the world [...] Throughout, she vividly describes sounds, smells, and color – the myriad hues of a 'sea of saris' from India – and folds in touches of poetry. Fumi Nakamura's lush illustrations add to the book's appeal. Readers of Terry Tempest Williams and Annie Dillard will appreciate Nezhukumatathil's lyrical look at nature."
– Publishers Weekly