Reading Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile by Suzanne Adam was like sitting down and talking to an old friend, one who has been around the block in her mind as many times as I have. There was comfort in knowing that someone else has had as many questions about what goes on the world, and as great a thirst to learn new things, as I do.
Written as a book of short essays, whose topics range from books she is reading and her garden, to her Peace Corps days and letting her hair go gray, Adam’s keen observation skills turn the ordinary into meaningful. Her thoughts about people and her delight in the landscape made the hours spent reading this book peaceful ones.
Calling herself a logophile, and noting that she and her Roget’s Thesaurus are inseparable. Adams used this love of words and her inventive mind to bring her simple stories to life. For example, she writes about standing on the deck of a boat among darker skinned passengers: “We were like curds of cottage cheese accidentally dumped into a plate of caviar.”
Adam, who is in her eighth decade on Planet Earth, also writes about the worth of having lived for that many years. The hard times are written between the lines while the good memories are celebrated. But, like me, she worries about how we humans are treating the environment. During a visit to the bottom of the earth, truly, Adam looks around Patagonia Bay at the melting ice blocks surrounding her, and writes: “Maybe if I pay close attention, I’ll hear the glaciers whisperings and advice on their preservation.”
And while working in her garden, she worries about the homeless, the farmers with no suitable soil, the bees whose habitats are disappearing, and fires raging because of drought. Yet her hope for the future survives: “This morning. I look up at the wonder of an almost-true-blue firmament…light fills me…My bees dance about the delicate blooms…” As I read, my own worries about the future dissolve, and I simply enjoy the feeling of having a good book in my hands.
While the author’s love of wild, undeveloped landscapes rings out loud throughout the book, Adam admits that while she might imagine herself to be a country girl, she also likes the convenience of a city. This is well and good since she lives in Santiago, the capital of Chile and home to over six million people. But it’s such honest contrasts as this, and Adam’s deeper searches for meaning, that made me happy I had chosen to read this book.
While its genre falls into the travel and memoir categories, I also think of Notes from the Bottom of the World as a romance. It is a tale of a California women falling in love with a Chilean man, marrying him and moving to Chile. She then falls in love with her new country, but cheats on it because she always remembers her love for her homeland.
Adam also never forgets the people from her early life in California, which she regularly visits, nor the people she met and came to love during her Peace Corps’ days in Columbia. “Life was precarious and fragile, yet I discovered music, the smiles, and the generosity that flourished in the inhospitable landscape,” she writes. “Certainty is a rare visitor to our days. Our lives consist of multiple decisions lacking sureness, small daily acts of courage.”
Adam’s words consoled me. Notes from the Bottom of the World will be added to my book shelves, and most surely be read again.