Svensson has, quite stunningly, discovered in the natural and human history of the European eel a metaphor for his father’s life and a way to explore questions of knowledge, belief and faith ... [a] revelatory, amusing, often poignant amalgam of science and family history[.]
... captivating ... The book is its own strange contraption, all of it similarly shot through with electric current. The book’s deadpan title perhaps undercuts its depth and complexity. Yes, this is a book about eels, those uncanny creatures, but in Svensson’s capable hands it is also a book about obsession and mystery, about faith and science, and about the limits of knowledge ... Like Annie Dillard and Rachel Carson, Svensson knows the best nature writing is done with emotion and drive. The Book of Eels is not objective in the way one might expect a work of nonfiction about the natural world to be. Svensson writes with imaginative verve and point of view. He is opinionated, funny, curious and open to disagreement ... But what sets The Book of Eels apart is its dual nature: Each eel chapter is followed by a brief self-contained chapter of memoir ... These gorgeous vignettes—which detail golden days and bracing swims through unfathomable currents—have something of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book to them. They are elusive and mythic in what they teach about our closest relationships, how our families shape and guide us while remaining somehow unknowable. Svensson is confident and controlled as he toggles between science and memoir, fact and memory ... Svensson, however, does make a big deal of the eel’s existence, and we are grateful for it.
... this is one of those special books, the kind that seem to have an extra resonant chamber attached ... even if it were only a book about eels it would be wonderful. Eels, it turns out, are utterly, fascinatingly strange ... such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent ... I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.
...[a] captivating debut, congenially translated by Agnes Broomé ... Tinged with melancholy ... The Book of Eels is, in the end, not really about eels but about life itself, and that makes it different from other recent books on the subject. Mr. Svensson mixes chapters about the eel’s natural history—or, rather, the history of clumsy human attempts to understand it—with finely observed autobiographical vignettes devoted to his own childhood memories of eel-fishing with his father. From these memories, saturated with intense, sensory detail, Mr. Svensson’s father emerges as a creature as magical and determined as any eel from the Sargasso Sea ...In a way, Mr. Svensson’s book is another version of his father’s cabin, full of stories and of a size just right, the size only memory and love can make: a place where secrets will always remain secrets and grief dissolves into the shimmering waters of the lake outside, the author’s own Sargasso Sea, forever stocked with shiny eels, all within easy reach—yet not.
... this is one of those special books, the kind that seem to have an extra resonant chamber attached ... It could yet become one of those quirky international hits. Because even if it were only a book about eels it would be wonderful ... such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent ... I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.
I was drawn to his book the way a child is drawn to an unusual foul smell, and it was as much a boon to my mental life as a blow to my social one. For weeks after reading I found myself cornering people at parties to obliterate them with a machine-gun spray of eel facts ... There are parts of the book where Svensson seems maybe a little too enamored of his subject ... Still, it is a charming and itch-scratching contribution to the eel canon — less an analysis of eels than a meditation on their glories. If you don’t think of yourself as someone who might enjoy meditating on eel glory, well, I didn’t either, and here I am transcribing my encounter for publication.
Such a fascinating concept and publisher copy that is eager to draw comparisons to Sy Montgomery’s charming The Soul of an Octopus and Helen Macdonald’s runaway hit H is for Hawk seem to promise readers another fascinating memoir-nature writing hybrid, only with a mystery angle, to boot ... While the riddle of the eel may prove a draw to readers of this genre, the grander mystery that will endure is the appeal of this book...Rife with admitted anthropomorphizing, The Book of Eels tries to layer meaning within the mysteries of the eel, but profundity wriggles out of Svensson’s grasp with every attempt. Pairings of practically rhetorical questions and uninteresting blanket observations are frustratingly littered throughout the scientific portions ... One is liable to forget that this is a nature book and not a freshman philosophy paper with adjusted margins to meet the required length ... The memoir portions provide a much-needed reprieve from the false insights, largely providing snapshots of the author’s relationship with his father throughout his childhood; the father-son pair spend quality time together as they trap, prepare, and eat the eels they catch. The quiet atmosphere of these sections makes them touchingly genuine ... Instead, Svensson decides on an even split between his personal stories and the science peppered with off-into-the-distance questioning. At times, he brushes against meaningful depth, but his devil’s advocacy often muddles the message ... Here’s the thing about mysteries, whether they be cozy, hard-boiled, or even nestled within a work of natural history: the reader expects some semblance of a resolution by the end. The Book of Eels not only fails to deliver one, but sadly proves itself to be a pseudo-philosophical work that poses more questions than it answers. If the eel is still keen to leave something to the imagination, then perhaps this was an exposé best left for another day.
There is surprisingly little known about this fish; a 20-year study to pinpoint their origin was interrupted by World War I. Scientific discoveries are few and far between, but the well-paced writing here motivates readers to learn more about these secretive animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. While exploring this historical path, Svensson quietly weaves in his own experience with eels, focusing on his father and how we interpret our own histories as humans, collectively and individually. The work poses questions about philosophy, the metaphysical, and the spiritual, as well as scientific issues, in a way that will stir readers ... This beautifully crafted book challenges us not only to understand eels but our own selves. Highly recommended.
In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father ... Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people ... The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning ... Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.
Svensson, a Swedish journalist, melds the personal and scientific in this captivating look at the European eel ... Svensson alternates these scientific and historical passages with moving reminiscences of being taught to fish for eels by his father in a stream near their home, and with reflections on eels as a human food source and on current efforts to conserve them. Nature-loving readers will be enthralled by Svensson’s fascinating zoological odyssey.