I kept on spotting this book on the review copy pile and thinking it looked interesting. The cover particularly jumped out at me. Yet it took me a while to open the pages and start reading. I needed to go on holiday first and have time to read at the pace this book deserves.
The Other Side of the River is published by Womancraft, a new small, independent publisher committed to sharing 'paradigm-shifting, life-changing books by women for women'. it is a book that explores water on many levels. The book itself is a mix of personal memoir, travelogue, manifesto, and appreciation of myth and ecology. Through memoir the author discovers how she became dammed and how she recovered her fluidity but this archetypal story is common to many of us.
Water - rivers, streams, tributaries, wetlands, swamps and the great oceans themselves - are explored through the traveller's eye and the inner eye. I loved the retelling of myths, specifically about goddesses from different cultures. The author has a very engaging way of telling stories and adapting them with her own insights. They are woven beautifully into the narrative of the book. I could have read many more and I look forward to her next book where I am sure I will meet mythologies that will further enrich my understanding of my own personal psyche and that of the rich cultures of the world.
Meanwhile, this book is full of wonderful stories like the spider from West Africa who stole all knowledge and put it in a tree, the story of the descent of the Ganga, India, and a favourite of mine, the story of the Selkies in Ireland. All are told with imagination, sympathy and vigour for a good archetypal yarn!
The ecological aspects of the book were also accurate and contemporary. Eila explores how we have dammed and diverted, drained and damaged our hydrological systems and the consequences of human inference that has only wounded our own capacity to be supported by the land. She even mentions permaculture and its role in rehydrating the landscape.
I appreciated the travel wandering, from the swamps of Florida to Kyoto, London, San Francisco and Ghana, all beautifully observed and inter-woven with story and mythology.
If I have one gripe, as her editor, I would have requested she rein back her personal angst a little in places. Self-revelation is an important part of the book but in one or two places, I found the analysis about her parent's marriage a little repetitive. This is a small criticism and don't let it put you off. You can gloss over it.
More than a story though, The Other Side of the River will take you on a journey of self-discovery where you too can further explore the need for us all, men and women, to open up into a fluidity of communication and co-operation and begin to take that paradigm shift towards the collective. Inter-woven within this is the river, travelling from its source all the way to the Mother Ocean. This powerful metaphor flows through every part of the book.
Womancraft is definitely a publisher to watch.
Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine.