When Manjula Martin moved from the city to the woods of Northern California, she wanted to be closer to the wilderness that she had loved as a child. But the landscape that Martin treasured was an ecosystem already in crisis. Wildfires fueled by climate change were growing bigger and more frequent. In 2020, when a dry lightning storm ignited hundreds of simultaneous wildfires across the West and kicked off the worst fire season on record, Martin evacuated her home in the midst of a pandemic. Both a love letter to the forests of the West and an interrogation of the colonialist practices that led to their current dilemma, this book follows her as she seeks shelter, bears witness to the devastation, and tries to better understand fire's role in the ecology of the West.
Powerful ... Grounded...surprising ... She braids together strands of various histories — a personal one, along with the larger story of humans and fire — all set against the background of the summer and fall of 2020, when both the pandemic and wildfires were raging ... The range of this book coaxes us to confront our own failures of imagination.
As she recounts months spent dodging and being followed by wildfires, months when the siren on her local firehouse blared almost daily and when smoke overwhelmed her senses, Martin reflects on what it means to make one's home in a place that is destined to burn, and to live 'inside a damaged body on a damaged planet.' Indeed, The Last Fire Season is just as much about learning to live with chronic pain as with fire ... This perspective melds with Martin's nuanced way of seeing fire as both something to fear and as a necessary element in the evolution of the Earth's ecosystems ... The Last Fire Season eschews a redemptive arc in favor of witnessing and sitting with the discomfort of reality, with understanding that, as Martin puts it, 'what happened to the land would happen to me.'
Beautifully written ... Martin makes a strong case that capitalism’s disregard for Indigenous ways of caring for nature has, along with human-caused climate change, worsened the spread and impact of wildfire ... A memoirist’s job is to immerse a reader in a specific time and place. Martin has done that. Unfortunately, it’s boring there ... Nonetheless, Martin’s prose is simultaneously nimble and sturdy, even when she’s making specious arguments.