Aimee Nezhukumatathil was born in Chicago to a Filipino mother and a father from South India. She teaches creative writing and writes poems and essays about nature and the environment. In her recently published essay volume World of Wonders, she frames moments in her life that have shaped her, with anecdotes about animals and plants. In this way, she conveys how wondrous and impressive flora and fauna can be, and how much they have to teach.
Nezhukumatathil’s detailed observations of animals and plants take place in various settings in the USA, because her parents often moved for their jobs, as does she, as an adult. In addition, she has a family connection to Kerala, where she visits her grandmother and spends her honeymoon, and she teaches workshops on a Greek island. While the joy that dancing frogs and fireflies bring the author is everywhere to be felt in her account of these anecdotes, everyday racism is also pervasive. In primary school, Nezhukumatathil is not allowed to paint peacocks because they are not American animals, and she wants to hide under trumpet trees to escape micro-aggressions. Later she faces the challenge of talking about racism with her own children, who are read as white. Nezhukumatathil repeatedly relies on what she can learn from the wondrous beings and plants of this world. One example is the cactus wren, which lives in dry cactus-covered desert areas:
“And we trusted in the cactus wren, in one who knew how to hollow out a space for itself in a most uninhabitable place”(31)
I read the little booklet about axoltls, octopuses and dragon-fruit, with illustrations by Fumi Mini Nakamura, in one go, but I think it’s worth taking it up again and again and slowly letting it sink in, essay by essay. It’s a book for those moments – I have them sometimes and maybe you do too – when one needs to be reminded of the awe the beauty of this world can actually inspire. The book offers a view to ways of being together that are characterised by mutual appreciation, and by more respect for everything that creeps and flies, blossoms and grows on this planet.