Regardless of whether you’ve ever been mushroom picking or not, if you read Long Litt Woon’s The way through the woods: Overcoming grief through nature, you are sure to develop a fascination for it. The author was born in Malaysia and now lives in Oslo. She first visited Norway on a school exchange and fell in love with a Norwegian man, Eiolf Olsen, whom she later married. After her husband died unexpectedly, Long Litt Woon sank into profound grief. Mushroom picking helped her cope with this grief, and this is what she writes about in her book.
I was not surprised to find out that Long Litt Woon is an anthropologist: it was already suggested by the way she describes mushrooms, collecting and the mushroom-collecting community. She pays special attention to the peculiarities of this community with its various cultural differences – differences which emerge even in terms of which mushrooms are classified as poisonous. The book is about mushroom walks in Norway, international mushroom conferences, mushroom friendships, the typical behaviour of mushroom pickers, their clothing and tools, mushroom recipes, and much more. Long Litt Woon’s account of her own introduction to mushroom picking can be described as autoethnographic. The author’s fascination with mushrooms and everything around them was very much transferred to me as a reader. While reading, I was constantly telling everyone around me various details about mushrooms, and I’m already looking forward to trying out the recipes Long Litt Woon shares at the end of the volume – with mushrooms I collect myself, of course. Chanterelle and apricot ice cream sounds pretty exciting!
The extremely personal passages about the author’s grief are sprinkled sparingly, but definitely contribute to making the book even more worth reading. Sadly beautiful scenes have stayed with me for a long time – like the one when, after her husband’s death, she finds a Spotify playlist of his that he had shared with her shortly before, which she then listens to at home for days. The way through the woods is a touching interplay of mourning and a newfound zest for life, awakened by a subculture with a life of its own and the fascinating ways of nature.
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