My friend Julian Hoffman's book, The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World, is an fascinating collection of essays about the relationships we develop with certain locations, thereby making them into ‘places’, and sometimes even homes. Such relationships are honed through our experiences in these locations: the things we see, the people we meet, the attention we pay. As the book's title implies, it's often the small things that make a location special: an encounter with an animal, a conversation with a stranger, a walk with a friend.
Most of The Small Heart of Things is set in Hoffman's adoptive home in the Prespa Lakes region of the Balkans, sitting astride the borders of Greece, Albania, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. But the book also travels farther afield, with flashbacks to Hoffman's time in London and the North of England, and with excursions to Transylvania, the Bucharest Natural History Museum, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, and elsewhere. There's even a Skype call to Canada, and a chance meeting with an old friend on a train bound for Romania.
In his essays, Hoffman encounters bear tracks and caterpillars, eagles and salamanders, shepherds and immigrant workers, beavers and moths, Turkmen traders and a mysterious man with a limp. Every one of these encounters, and the many others described in this highly enjoyable book, leave a lasting impression—both on Hoffman, and, by way of him, on us.
This is a book that demonstrates the value of paying attention. Highly recommended.