Asia in the twenty-first century as China’s shadow grows, Asia poised on the edge of change – and a woman exploring its threatened jungles for the animal they call the soul of Asia. Is this the tiger’s last moment before extinction or can it be saved? Who is trying to save it, and how? Are there any tigers left, and if so, where?
After ending a long relationship, award-winning poet Ruth Padel finds herself inexplicably drawn to the great animal solitary; potent, myth-laden, and now gravely endangered. She comes across an advert for a cheap trip to India and visits a tiger reserve. So begins a remarkable journey, and an obsession. With her granny’s opera glasses and a pair of cheap Tunisian trainers, asking how and where do tigers live and what are their chances, she plunges into tiger myths, tiger dreams, and leech-infested jungles.
Among the cobras, bears and golden langurs living tangled lives in the tiger’s shadow from Nepal to Siberia, Karnataka to Indonesia, and with poems in her pocket to keep her going, she meets tigers, leopards, bee-keepers, forest guards, espionage teams pitted against ruthless poachers. She kayaks through rapids, camps on rainforested mountains, but above all she travels with and questions “defenders of the wild”: the scientists and conservationists struggling to protect the forest and its denizens from armed poachers, and from the mining, logging and development mafias that threaten the world’s last remaining wilderness.
What does wild mean? Why does it matter that wilderness should continue, that wild tigers still exist, when there are thousands of tigers in zoos and always will be? How, faced with wildlife crime, poaching and the loss of forests, do you deal with despair? What about the symbols and meanings we load the tiger with, which lead us both to revere and destroy it?
There are animal books, there are travel books, there are getting over someone books, but you don’t usually find them all together. This one is about loss and survival, poetry and science; about what you find when you enter the forest. Secret remote Bhutan, the taiga of Far East Russia, vulnerable to the mafia and changing forest law; the jungles of Laos, full of landmines and rapidly being emptied by the wildlife trade; snowy forests of north-east China; equatorial Sumatran rainforest with its illegal chainsaws, landslides, and tiger shamans.
This is a wise, captivating and above all a timely study in natural history, a beautiful piece of travel literature driven by deep reverence for nature, wildlife and science, and a meticulously focussed snapshot of Asia on the edge of irreversible environmental change. It opens your eyes to wider issues of bio-diversity in all their urgency and humanity, to knife-edge moral questions about a balance between poverty and conservation.
Finally, Tigers in Red Weather is an exploration of love – a quest for generous disenchantment, for falling out of love while honouring the past. It is an inner as well as an outer journey.
To hear Ruth discussing this book in depth with US radio talk show host Susan Frank, see http://www.wildaboutpets.net/info/innewsdetail.asp?nid=25&ID=1141
The book was shortlisted in USA, for the 2007 Kiriyama Prize, and in UK for the W H Smith First Travel Book Prize
“A stunning plea for conservation and a stealthy excursion into the human heart” Oprah’s O Magazine
“Fine, illuminating writing: a model for any nature writer. Reminded me of Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines” Conservation Magazine, USA
“Full of intelligence….a book blessed with beauty and brains in equal measure… .delightful and evocative.” Christian Science Monitor, USA
“An instant classic, beyond superlatives”
Sunday Times of India
This US edition, from Walker Books, is $26.95: see publishers site
“Occasionally you open a new book, read a few pages and just know: This is special.” Michael Dirda, WASHINGTON POST
Read Ruth explaining “page 69″ on “Campagn for the American reader”
“Lyrical, deeply impressive: gripping, informative, intriguing, dazzling” – Guardian
“Superbly evocative natural history, tiger myths and mysteries and the pressing moral debates around conservation: a haunting document of our time” – Metro, UK
“Padel is best known as one of Britain’s most admired poets, so it’s hardly surprising that her observations in Tigers in Red Weather are as striking as her title. With the ear of a playwright, she replicates speech patterns so deftly you can distinguish the differing English accents of her Chinese, Indian and Russian guides. She’s really terrific at this Even without the tiger lore, Padel’s actual adventures and misadventures, while trekking, kayaking, climbing or riding an elephant, would on their own make for a first-class travel book Indeed, the chapters on Bhutan and Ussuriland provide superb short introductions to these little-known parts of the world. But the tiger lore and tiger love remain at center stage” Washington Post
“Few books have said more about wildlife and human nature, and the relationship between the two, than Ruth Padel’s wonderful Tigers In Red Weather. The author is a poet who writes exquisite prose, and her book, which is both highly personal and generously objective, combines a vivid if elegiac passion for tigers, a strong sympathy for the people who live near them, and a lucid abhorrence for the greed and stupidity that are taking the animals to extinction” Spectator, UK
“Beyond superlatives. She mixes conservation science with natural history, myth and anecdote, without missing a beat. It reminds you of Peter Matthiesson’s Snow Leopard or Wiliam Fiennes’ Snow Geese but deserves a class of its own. She confronts the tragedy of the tiger’s demise with unflinching courage and compassion. The secret of her success is summed up in her fourth chapter: ‘Poetry, science, or describing a journey, what matters is saying it precisely how you see it and no more, Accuracy is all you can do.’ That accuracy – integrity, really – is what turns this book into an instant classic.”
– Sunday Times of India
“Essential reading for what man has done to the greatest of Nature’s creations. Padel’s tiger journey traverses every nook and cranny of the tiger’s world. Her observations about people who work with tigers are as crisp as those on the beasts. This is one of the finest pieces of tiger text I have ever read.” – Valmik Thapar, India Today
“Brilliant” Calcutta Telegraph (read full review below)
“A journey into the animal kingdom where species are on the brink of extinction. Touched by the poverty of those who guard tiger reserves, sympathetic towards people dependent on forests struggling for survival, Padel’s testimony is both personal and political. Her book is about the writer and the world.”– Kashmir Times
“She is such a good writer she could make even the dullest of subjects readable. She captures the beauty and passion of the places she visits and the special hold the tiger has on our imaginations.” Sunday Times
“A strange and powerful work, part-memoir, part-travelogue, part lovesong. Padel is brilliant at describing the various inhospitable terrains. Few writers do leeches, ticks and mosquitoes quite so well. When a tiger strays too close we feel its hot breath and see its glittering golden eyes as if we were there ourselves. ” Mail on Sunday
“Illuminating this extraordinary travel-memoir is a Rimbaud-esque quest for the essence of ferocity. This is no mere gutsy travelogue but a poet’s attempt to do what the scientist does, ‘Say precisely what and how you saw’. This is the poet as super-naturalist, always giving more than her best, no-holds-barred, for that flash of the sublime.” – Independent
“A beautiful book. Londoner Padel makes an unlikely tiger tracker but doesn’t let fear hold her back in remote, demanding places. She has the linguistic gifts and imaginative drive to keep the reader caring, explains the metaphysical as well as physical, scientific and political significance of the tiger.” – Sunday Times
“A very personal travelogue which abounds in wonderful descriptive detail. As Padel zig-zags across the continent, terrkking, kayaking, ridign elephants bareback, she develops a passion for the tiger, coupled with a fury at countries where no effort is made for conservation and poachers carry all before them” The Week
“Gripping, informative, always intriguing, sometimes dazzling. There are few women writing non-fiction today with such a sophisticated understanding of language, nuanced approach to style, and willingness to engage with the big issues, personal and political. Only a poetic imagination could have whipped together disparate dollops of literature, science, autobiography and metaphysical musing to confect such a lyrical, deeply impressive book.” Guardian
“More than a travel book, more than a nature book, this is a spiritual memoir, a book about survival and the constant threat modern life presents to what is special. Ruth Padel is a poet and scholar with a beautifully patient understanding, reminiscent of Ted Hughes, of how the natural world invests itself in our experience.”
– Andrew O’Hagan, Telegraph
“She is a poet with no previous history of plunging into snake-infested jungles and no special aptitude for it. She is neither big, fit, strong nor brave. But she is Darwin’s great great grand-daughter and a wonderful writer, and has produced the best book ever written on the places where tigers live.
There is tiger meaning in all her landscapes – the Bhuddhist bells of Bhutan, ice winds of Tibet, dripping turquoise of the Bay of Bengal.
Yet this is not a book of descriptions. At heart, it is about people and their relationship with animals” Evening Standard
“Wonderful, informative, fascinating: a learned and detailed study of tigers, their habits, their plight, their future. Her tiger investigation in China is one of the best accounts I have read of Chinese hypocrisy and carelessness towards the environment, and the fear or numbness about Nature of many Chinese. She is dead right to say ‘China’s first instinct with a problem is control by denial”. And I love her detail. One sign of her brilliance – or should I say tigerishness – is that she keeps our attention all the way.” – Literary Review
“Padel’s poet’s eye brings the characters, two legs or four, to vivid life. And how however desperate her situation, she finds humour in it.”
– Independent on Sunday
“An outer journey of Asian expeditions, thrilling and surprising, matched by a restless inner journey, elegantly drawn. Her prose has an intense, lush quality to match the jungles. She has an adventurer’s intrepid spirit, a poet’s eye for detail, and an ear for dialogue.”
“Scenically, Tigers in Red Weather is a feast; in terms of adventure, a brow-sweating foray into the jaws of danger. It fulfils the requirement of great travel-writing: it surrounds you, engages the brain as well as the senses, and never slackens the momentum.”
– The Scotsman
“A passionate work of poetical epiphanies that reads like an autobiographical novel of rare candour” – Irish Times
“Poems are scattered through the book like sunlight through trees. It begins with a beautiful description of tigers. Her poet’s eye is always evident; her images convey why saving any species matters.” – Scottish Herald
IN FULL FROM THE CALCUTTA TELEGRAPH, 17th March 2006
ADVANCE PRAISE from the cover
“A work of moving originality and enchantment” – Colin Thubron
“I loved the book. But – shock, urgency – it also zeroes in on the greatest wildlife tragedy and scandal of our times, the tiger’s last-ditch battle for survival in the wild. Here are passionate, brutally honest dispatches from the blood-soaked front line.”
– Mark Shand
“An extraordinary quest for the tiger in its forest home and in the human imagination. Padel is not a descendant of Charles Darwin for nothing. Her curiosity is daring and rigorous, her language eloquent. This is not only a superb portrait of Asian tiger country, but also of the fears and longings that the tiger creates in human hearts.”
– Helen Dunmore
‘Tigers in Red Weather is a beautifully strange and personal travel
book, one that might bring Joan Didion or Bruce Chatwin to mind, a book
about love and survival that reads like a well-tuned poem. Ruth Padel
has never written better, and that’s saying something.’ Colm Toibin
FROM Waterstones Quartery, April 2005
“Because tigers need everything in the forest to work, they show it is healthy. Their disappearance is a warning, the oil light coming on in a car”.
After a string of tragedies, culminating in the end of a five-year relationship, Ruth Padel borrows £400 and books the last place on a fortnight’s holiday at the Malabar Coast. What interests her most is the tiger reserve which lies eight hours away from where she will stay. And so Padel’s passion and obsession with tigers begins as she embarks on what will become a two-year journey to discover all she can about one of the world’s most beautiful animals.
Padel’s first sighting of a tiger is in Kanha, India, but the trip is not without danger. Her guide is quick to tell her of tourists who have become victims of tigers, and the utmost respect for wildlife that must be maintained at all times. In between visits to India, China, Siberia and Indonesia Padel devours any literature she can to learn more about these stunning and elusive creatures.
Although she encounters many people who dedicate their lives to protecting tigers and improving the conservation of jungle areas, poaching and illegal sales of skins and bones remains rife. Padel’s Darwinian roots (she is Charles Darwin’s great-, great-granddaughter) are evident in her concern for the imbalance to the ecosystem such atrocities cause.
On every page, her love and understanding of nature is obvious. Tigers in Red Weather’ is so much more than a travel biography. It is an exciting adventure story, illustrated with history, poetry and written in beautifully crafted prose.