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REVIEW: Strangers by Rebecca Tamás

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Rebecca Tamás' collection of essays, Strangers, spans the connection between body, mind, and land, exploring links between the environment, folklore, history, and politics. This short collection is incredibly thought-provoking and made me realise just how lacking I had been with my thoughts of climate emergency. Thank you so much to Makina Books for sending me this proof!

Tamás' essays are:

  • On Watermelon

  • On Hospitality

  • On Panscychism

  • On Greenness

  • On Pain

  • On Grief

  • On Mystery

These titles show the kind of ground that Tamás covers in her essays, all underpinned by climate change and the emergency we are in. Tamás shows how interconnected we are with nature and uses this to ask 'why do we treat the natural world this way?':

"The outside world, human and non-human, is not a painted backdrop to our lives and experiences, but makes them, is part of them." (Pg. 38)

Tamás uses examples from literature, folklore, and her own life to define the relationship between human and non-human, and to show where we went wrong, taking us back centuries in history.

Tamás exposes the politics of the environment, how the climate emergency is entangled with racism and sexism, and how it is much more complex than some might think - it is the way we live our lives. Tamás explains that:

"As the earth, the nonhuman world, is polluted and destroyed, so too are the homes, livelihoods and communities of non-white peoples, who didn't do anything to bring this environmental crisis about." (Pg. 12)

Tamás maps the climate crisis as a racism crisis too, describing the history of colonialism and the taking of land and how this affects our very lives today - the way we work, the way we treat forests, the way this affects the communities that have lived in these areas for centuries.

One of the most remarkable essays within the collection, for me, was 'On Pain.' In this essay, Tamás draws links between animal cruelty, with the slaughterhouse, and sexism and misogyny. Pain, violence, and a disregard for an individual's life unite the two:

"Misogyny feeds into animal cruelty feeds back into misogyny again - pain as currency, because "she likes it rough", or oppressive conditions are economically viable, fast, productive." (Pg. 62)

"We go out, as woman, into the word, swimming in our currency of pain; medical conditions misunderstood or ignored, sexual abuse or violence hushed up." (Pg. 62)

I had been fully aware of the links between women and animals, gender and meat, in their complex ways after many a discussion with my vegan / veggie university friends. Tamás' essay demonstrates this even further, even made me feel vulgar that I eat meat. Animal cruelty is a feminist issue, as well as a climate issue, as well as a racist issue. Politics and the environment are so tangled because they are the direct consequences of those who are human and how they treat non-human creatures, or those humans who are treated as non-human. I'll definitely be passing this collection on to those university friends and those who I've never spoken to about these connections. I think that this book is that important. I finished each essay by placing the book on my lap and sitting and absorbed the information that was presented to me.

Tamás' writing is lyrical and relatable, hopeful and aware; she is pleading for you to listen and understand. Her essays are extremely accessible and her questions are provoking - she made me think 'why have I never realised this?' on almost every page. Isn't that what literature should be for? To educate, to make people uncomfortable, to call around change?

Strangers is an incredibly important book that I think everybody should read, because everything described in it affects your life; every human, every nonhuman, and it will teach you things that you will never forget in your search to be better, to do better.

You can buy Strangers here.

Thanks for reading!

Kate x

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