Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
2nd edition, Haymarket Books, 2016
Genre: Non-fiction / Essays
Hope in the Dark is a collection of 21 essays written by author and activist, Rebecca Solnit. Originally published in 2004, on the heels of the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, it was re-published in 2016, quickly becoming a national bestseller. Why? Because Solnit is able to convince us that hope lies in the margins and in those seedy dark shadows where we often can’t see clearly. It is in the darkness where we find possibilities and the catalyst for change. Solnit tells us that “To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”
Phew! Because of late, the present doesn’t always seem so inhabitable.
Solnit uses history to give rise to hope for tomorrow. She recounts global issues — both political and environmental — some of which I knew of only peripherally. She celebrates examples of activism including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demonstrations against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico. Why rely on the past to give us hope for tomorrow? As Solnit explains so eloquently, although hope lies in the future, its impetus lies in our collective memory and voice.
“You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war change of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.”
Solnit also reminds us that hope comes in small increments, often from long-dormant seeds. Hope is only the beginning, she emphasizes. It is never a substitute for action, on the contrary, hope is a call for action. We must reach for alternatives in order to influence outcomes. “Hope gets you there; work gets you through.”
This book is just full of delicious quotes. In fact, Solnit inspired me to write a series of haikus related to the concept of hope which I will reference below.
I can’t say that I enjoyed all of the essays equally. Some felt a little forced, or maybe I was just less familiar with their historical context. But each had a nugget or two, or a take-away that made it a worthwhile read. Hope in the Dark is both poignant and extremely relevant in today’s gloomy world. It may be the inspiration or catalyst that we need to see our way forward.
Click for the recipe that I paired with this book review.