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George: A Magpie Memoir


George: A Magpie Memoir

In GEORGE, artist and poet Frieda Hughes shares a remarkable story drawn from her outer experiences and inner reflections --- all about a bird.

Growing up the child of a diffident father (Ted Hughes) and a secretly mentally tormented mother (Sylvia Plath), Hughes found rare comfort in nature. The joys of the outdoor world and the happiness of keeping pets even for short periods led her to wish for a truly permanent home. However, this was something that seemed to elude her as she lost her mother to suicide when she was still a toddler, attended 12 schools by age 13, and finally found a place to settle (in Wales) with a man she knew would never want to stay in one place --- a man she designates, with ironic humor, as The Ex.

"Enhanced with occasional poems and her penned line drawings of the birds whose praises she sings, Hughes’ saga is intelligent, amusing and poignant."

With portions of her diary shared beginning in May 2007, Hughes recounts how a dying baby magpie saved her life. She found the creature, which she would name George, when a fierce storm drove his parents from her garden. Keeping, protecting, tolerating and even training George soon became her fixation. She kept him alive by feeding him giant worms and accepted the fact that the more he ate, the more he pooped --- on her clothing and all over the house.

As natural creatures tend to do, George adapted rather quickly to life in the Hughes home. He became Hughes’ friend when in general her life tended to be a bit lonely. The joys that George’s closeness brought were sometimes offset by The Ex’s somewhat distant attitudes, even as she, who cared so diligently for her winged wonderchild, knew he eventually would fly away --- as would The Ex. But her triumphant construction of an aviary seals the sense that she now firmly and surely has her lasting, nature-laden home.

Hughes’ connection to George, seen day by day, is neatly crafted to include her reflections on her private physical and psychological ups and downs, providing a rare view of a human mind and heart melding spiritually with instinctive, non-human creatures. She concludes by counting her blessings, knowing that the future could bring further pangs, but that all blows could be softened by new arrivals “to populate my kitchen and my aviary, becoming a source of joy and equilibrium when the going got tough --- all because of a little magpie called George.”

Enhanced with occasional poems and her penned line drawings of the birds whose praises she sings, Hughes’ saga is intelligent, amusing and poignant. It invites us to realize, as she did, that all birds must someday take to the skies --- while encouraging us to honor and assist them when we can.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 24, 2023

George: A Magpie Memoir
by Frieda Hughes

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2023
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1668016508
  • ISBN-13: 9781668016503