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Unsheltered

Narrated by: Barbara Kingsolver
Length: 16 hrs and 38 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4.5 out of 5 stars (92 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

2016 Vineland. 

Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against the vicissitudes of her shattered life and family - and the crumbling house that contains her.

1871 Vineland.

Thatcher Greenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work of Charles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. But those in power in Thatcher's small town have no desire for a new world order. Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome.

Both Willa and Thatcher resist the prevailing logic. Both are asked to pay a high price for their courage.

A testament to the power and goodness of human spirit, Unsheltered explores the foundations we build, crossing time and place to give us all a little more hope in those around us, and a little more faith in ourselves.

©2018 Barbara Kingsolver (P)2018 Faber Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Truth telling and catastrophic collapse

Riveting dual stories of catastrophic collapse of houses across two different centuries, and parallel tales of the challenges of truth tellers in societies that want to shut out new realities.

Barbara Kingsolver has unearthed the untold story of world class biologist and naturalist Mary Treat, who corresponded with Charles Darwin about species evolution whilst living in a society that damned the theory and its adherents as ‘indecent’ and unchristian.

Her recreation of the conversations between the unconventional Mary Treat and the protagonist, a Darwinian science teacher are a window into another era of discovery, and the challenges of scientists to convince people of the merits of rational deductive scientific investigation and knowledge.

She spices it up with the spectre of a capitalist landlord of a superseded utopian dream - enslaving farmers lured to ‘Vineland’ in layers of debt if their crop fails.

To give us a present day context, the story is interwoven with the tale of the 21st century family living at the same address. Middle aged Willa and Janos, who have had both their careers implode, have moved into a falling down house they inherited with their adult children, ailing objectionable father and new grandchild, baffled by how all their middle class striving has led them to near destitution.

I appreciated the juxtaposition between the popular reception of present day ‘The Bullhorn’ presidential candidate, and failure of western capitalist societies to face up to the costs and consequences of our over-consumption and toxic waste; with the popular rejection of Darwin’s theory of evolution back in the 1870s and how the New Jersey Vinelanders we’re in thrall to their capitalist overlord Landis.

Relevant and captivating.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Loved it

Fascinating story based on real events, and so cleverly linked to present day concerns. I felt for these characters

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • Brisbane, Australia
  • 22-12-2018

A gently narrated wake-up for sustainability now!

I loved the parallel tales of past and present; of 'I want' versus 'I care'.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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great writing, engaging characters, important issu

loved it! Kingsolver communicates important issues in a thoroughly entertaining story with believable characters .

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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The past and the now and the future.

Long after I had finished this wonderful book, so many ideas, thoughts, connections and questions continue to come to me. I loved the narration (which is rather rare when an author reads their own work) and the voices of Nick,Willa and Thatcher and Mary were perfect. As a person of Willa's generation I so understood that fear, that love for family and never once judged any of them harshly. The narrative is written with so much compassion and tenderness ever for the most difficult of characters.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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genius

LOVED this book. Wonderfully relevant & scrupulously researched. Polished to gleaming, but still so real. Could be subtitled: how to convince aspirational but thinking people to slow down their consumerism.

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Two stories in one

Fascinating parallel stories in different times, but what will stay with me are the ideas around the necessary move from consumer culture where material possessions and financial wealth are the markers of success, to the possibility of a new world where people are forced to be content with less, which creates a new freedom from the urge to achieve material success at all costs.

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I’m just not smart enough for this book

I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible and so many of Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier books, but the last few have gotten progressively harder to get through. Very probably I’m just not intellectual enough to appreciate the philosophical banter between the main characters, I’ll admit. Like other reviewers have said, this felt like a thinly disguised lecture on sustainability and the precarious post-GFC economic circumstances middle class people find themselves in today. There was very little plot or actual character development. I just didn’t care about any of the characters. Lost the will to live about a third of the way through.

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Thought provoking and strangely calming

Compelling read looking at generational thinking but also isolation of thinking differently. I loved the historical comparison reminding the reader that contexts change but does the way we humans act change that much? We all instictively want to belong and feel safe and sadly this drives our behaviours more than we recognise. However if we can instead find courage to stand out we can drive the change that is needed.

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  • Emily
  • 02-01-2019

A beautifully written slow story

If you like beautiful slice of life type reads, this will be up your alley. Some interesting thoughts and great characters but nothing really happens so it just sort of ambles along. Had to listen at 1.2 speed as the narration is really slow.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel Redford
  • 29-10-2018

Over-stuffed with good things

I’ve respected Barbara Kingsolver’s work since the wonderful Poisonwood Bible twenty years ago, but I was disappointed with Unsheltered. Her deep-seated concerns are clear and there are some similarities between this novel and fellow American Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance (reviewed by me 20/8/18) - not least in having the main character being called Willa.

Kingsolver’s Willa lives in Vineland New Jersey in an old inherited house with her elderly and sick Greek father-in-law living on the top floor. Her universe disintegrates as their son returns home with a very young baby after its mother commits suicide, and their massively opinionated daughter returns out of the blue from her aimless travels with a boyfriend – and they all have to live together in a house that is seriously disintegrating. The situation is a metaphor for the crumbling of everything around us in today’s society in America and even globally.

Kingsolver is a political writer with impassioned views, wide knowledge about the natural world and insight into the failings of contemporary society from failing healthcare and man-made ecological ruination, to the impossible economic pressures on families (and much more). The trouble with Unsheltered is that I found it over-ambitious and just too stuffed, however good parts are. A huge part of the book is a parallel story of nineteenth century Darwinism in the re-created life of one pioneer who had once lived in Willa’s house and corresponded with Darwin. There’s far TOO much about carnivorous plants and 19th century letters, however interesting they are in this parallel story. It clogs and confuses the whole, even though I can see Kingsolver’s intention is to make a parallel between society facing the apparent end of the world as they have known it now and then.

16 hours is too long – Clock Dance was 9 hours and made its message more succinctly and effectively. Kingsolver’s characters are carrying such polemical weight that they are just too heavy-going to breathe as real people.

Kingsolver’s narration is superb, however. She has a good voice and she knows exactly how to convey the nuances of her own beautifully written work.

21 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • JENNIFER
  • 28-10-2018

Incredible Writing

Amazing book. Certainly makes one think of our worlds future. Barbara is an amazing narrator.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • jackie bean
  • 03-04-2019

Could not get into this story

Just found very boring and - sorry- Barbara’s voice is quite annoying! Very slow and didn’t get me straight away so persevered but to no avail!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. R. Reade
  • 20-02-2019

family pain

this is a book which is worth keeping on with. the small cast of characters cover two historical periods so there are times when you play catch-up as you listen. in Kingsolver you have a very competent reader, whose voice is a pleasure to hear (& I speak as a Brit!).

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • S E King
  • 06-08-2019

Another great book from Barbara Kingsolver

Having the author read her own book and read it so well, was a real bonus on what is already a wonderful book. Again I learnt so much from Ms Kingsolver. Her talent is to tell a gripping story about characters you come to really care for while giving you nuggets of facts along the way. Of course her books have a political bias but to me that is a plus.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • purlieu
  • 06-06-2019

Slightly disappointed by my favourite author

I’ve loved Bárbara Kingsolvers other books but I struggled with this one. The present day part of the story just about held my interest but the historical part did not. I wasn’t keen on the way it was read although I have liked her reading of previous books. Perhaps I should have read the book in print.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jan
  • 30-05-2019

wonderful reading of a wonderful book!

Double time fascinating story read by the author kept me awake night after night. The contemporary story so resonant & recognisable, the early utopian settlement turned dystopian beautifully, intriguingly interwoven...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nell Nicholas
  • 09-05-2019

my FAVOURITE writer, Barbara is an absolute genius

I had high expectations for this book, and it didn't disappoint. A beautifully woven treat.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • thewestisawake
  • 01-04-2019

Hmmmmm

Didn't like the tone of voice used for characters but it caught the dilemma well

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Helen
  • 09-02-2019

unfocused

The story starts off about one woman and her family. After a few chapters getting to know her and her story, it completely changes - its another family ? the same house and an earlier time but not sure, maybe I wasn't paying attention for a split second. Anyway the first story isn't mentioned again. The other family seems to have no focus but is rather about in depth conversations about politics and flora. Just gave up in the end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful