A World For My Daughter: An Ecologist's Search for Optimism (REVIEW)

Reviewed by: Brendon Larson

A World for My Daughter: An Ecologist's Search for Optimism / Alejandro Frid, Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press, 2015 224 pages.

In this lyrical book, Alejandro Frid weaves together the experiential, scientific, Indigenous and activist strands of his life into a series of letters to his daughter, Twyla Bella. Frid’s book is motivated by a deep concern for the state of the world that his daughter’s generation will inherit, yet also by a strong sense of the optimism necessary to ward off the nihilism nipping at his heels. 

Frid is a bona fide marine ecologist. The book shares stories of his experiences of natural beauty, while conducting research from the fjords of Tierra del Fuego to Kluane National Park in the Yukon. With these experiences, his love for the world grows and with it, his wish to contribute to its conservation. As Aldo Leopold has pointed out, ecologists live in “a world of wounds” of which most people remain unaware. Frid also recognizes that the natural world is changing in the Anthropocene – largely due to the effect of human-driven climate change – and will continue to change even in the most optimistic of scenarios. 

I have a teenage daughter of my own, so I read this book enthusiastically. I am sure many conservationist parents will recognize, in Frid’s account, their own attempts to connect their children with the living world – even though Twyla Bella’s experiences with grizzly tracks and whale-breath under the tutelage of Indigenous elders is enviable. They’d also appreciate the challenge he faces in avoiding over-sheltering his daughter without succumbing to “robbing” her of childhood too early. 

Frid acknowledges that it will be many years before his daughter is able to read and comprehend the book. So he also imagines influencing others who “favour a paradigm shift in the economics and politics” that influence the fate of the biosphere. However, I feel these dual audiences create a tension in the book – to the extent that he is writing to her as if she’s grown-up and perhaps even an ecologist. Frid clearly recognizes the need for integrating science and passion, and for popularizing science, and he provides a good model of doing so.

Oftentimes though, the book lacks the heart-felt tone of a father-daughter conversation, instead becoming a narrative of Frid’s life in research that contains a little too much ecological jargon. But it does have some good insights and stories – even for those of us familiar with the field. 

That’s not to deny the tremendous heart in this book. Frid shares important pieces of family history with his daughter, including dysfunction in his father’s upbringing and descent from “Jews who barely missed the Holocaust.” He shares deep empathy for life on Earth, for Indigenous peoples (his friends) and for his bioregion. These motivate his commitment to being a “neo-traditional scientist” who speaks out as well as his involvement in civil disobedience that has twice landed him in jail. His family has committed to difficult choices in the name of conservation, such as minimizing flying to the extent that he hasn’t brought Twyla Bella to experience his native Mexico.

The upshot is that Frid finds hope as a storyteller, saying his work may help him “find peace in the Anthropocene – not by trying to stop ecosystem changes … but by steering those changes toward the the path of greatest resilience.” 

Several reasons for hope have occurred in the short period of time since this book was published, including not least the ousting of oil-sands-in-pocket governments, the subsequent un-muzzling of government scientists and commitments in Paris by the new Trudeau government. Perhaps Twyla Bella will one day read this book for a record of how her father’s struggle with despair versus hope – shared by so many of us – helped to bring about the change necessary for a brighter future. 

Reviewer Information

Brendon Larson, a professor in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo, expects to ruffle some feathers with his unconventional view on invasive species. His final lines are offered with apologies to Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions.

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