Barbara Kingsolver has set this wonderful book in the southern Appalachian mountains where she actually lives for part of the year with her husband and daughters. Although fictional, it felt to me like an intimate portrait of the vivid characters of the farming community around the little town of Egg Fork; and of the wild creatures living in the forest on Zebulon mountain which overlooks the cultivated valley.

Big-striding forest ranger, Deanna, is a woman of few words since her divorce. As she stalks the mountain trails, caring for them and the birds and animals she is paid to protect, she encounters Eddie Bondo. An outsider, he is short and muscular, with dark hair like an animal pelt. Although fearful that this attractive itinerant could be a bounty hunter, Deanna takes him to her bed. ‘Eddie Bondo clobbered her thoughts. The nylon of his sleeve was touching hers, whispering secrets.’

Amongst the small-holders struggling to farm the valley below lives Lusa Widener with her husband Cole. She and Cole occupy the hundred-year-old Widener family home, whilst his five sisters and their spouses are assigned to small allotments on the property. An educated city girl, Lusa lives mired in their disapproval. Even an attempt to move the furniture to meet her own tastes is greeted by hostility, and before long they will not visit her. Her ideas about plants and animals are also seen as strange, and at odds with sound farming practice. When Cole is suddenly killed in a car accident, Lusa is left with a quandary. Will she flee back to the city and her academic life, or try to find a way to survive financially on the land of the man she loved?

Since eighty-year-old Garnett Walker’s wife died eight years ago he has found solace in religion and breeding chestnut trees. To his horror, his elderly neighbour, Miss Rawley, is both a fallen woman who has shamelessly raised an illegitimate child, and an organic farmer who won’t spray her weeds. Obeying the fifth commandment, he has not shot her.

Now that her characters are set to battle it out, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on a wonderful ride. Her ability to convey the complex beauty and the diverse bird and animal life of the forest is extraordinary, and her characters are rich and entertaining. I have various degrees of affection for the books I review. I have to say that this one took me to its heart and ravished me.