H Is for Hawk meets Joan Didion in the Pyrocene in this arresting combination of memoir, natural history, and literary inquiry that chronicles one woman’s experience of life in Northern California during the worst fire season on record.
Told in luminous, perceptive prose, The Last Fire Season is a deeply incisive inquiry into what it really means—now—to live in relationship to the elements of the natural world. 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. She was also seeking refuge from a health crisis that left her with chronic pain, and found a sense of healing through tending her garden beneath the redwoods of Sonoma County. But the landscape that Martin treasured was an ecosystem already in crisis. Wildfires fueled by climate change were growing bigger and more frequent: each autumn, her garden filled with smoke and ash, and the local firehouse siren wailed deep into the night. 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, along with thousands of other Californians, 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, The Last Fire Season, follows her from the oaky hills of Sonoma County to the redwood forests of coastal Santa Cruz, to the pines and peaks of the Sierra Nevada, as she seeks shelter, bears witness to the devastation, and tries to better understand fire’s role in the ecology of the West. As Martin seeks a way to navigate the daily experience of living in a damaged body on a damaged planet, she comes to question her own assumptions about nature and the complicated connections between people and the land on which we live.
About the Author
MANJULA MARTIN is coauthor, with her father, Orin Martin, of Fruit Trees for Every Garden, which won the 2020 American Horticultural Society Book Award. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Cut, Pacific Standard, Modern Farmer, and Hazlitt. She edited the anthology Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living; was managing editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story; and has worked in varied editorial capacities in the nonprofit and publishing sectors. She lives in West Sonoma County, California.
“Martin argues that a fundamental shift in the dominant culture’s attitude toward fire and nature is necessary. We can no longer think in terms of a ‘fire season.’ We must now learn to adapt to living with fire throughout the year. Insightful and alarming, hopeful and consistently engaging.” —Kirkus, starred review
“I loved this book. Through her soulful and poignant prose, Manjula Martin finds meaning in a time of unravelling, and agency at a moment of helplessness. She shows us how to exist through our existential crises, and lights our path through the fire.” —Ed Yong, author of An Immense World
“Martin comes in with a one-two punch: Her book is as lyrical as a prose poem but as smartly reported as the best journalism. Her account of living a year in the smoldering, angry, inflamed Northern California woods will thrill, haunt, and ultimately charm you.” —Susan Orlean, author of On Animals
“The Last Fire Season is an act of gorgeous excavation. Peeling back the American myth of wilderness, Martin interrogates the complicity of inhabiting a human body within a world grievously damaged by human hands. Clear eyed and stunning, Martin’s words are both a love letter and eulogy to the land, bearing witness to the complex human truth that we can deeply care for something even as we violate it.” —Tessa Hulls, author of Feeding Ghosts
“This is the kind of natural history writing we need at this most crucial moment. It's precise, granular, and lovely, but it's also engaged, and entirely honest in grappling with change. The shifting baseline of the world around us, not the timeless beauty of the world, is the story of our moment, and it's rarely been better told.” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
“As exquisite as it is precise, Manjula Martin's The Last Fire Season is a book that will haunt you. A beautifully composed, exhaustively researched guide through the changes and cataclysms of body, home, and wild California landscape, written with the lyricism of a fable and an urgency befitting our all too real climate crisis.” —Nicole Chung, author of A Living Remedy
“The Last Fire Season is a poetic, instructive document for our times. In sharing her experience of new disasters, Martin reveals that our collective challenge in facing climate change is no less than the ancient human condition: to find and create beauty amid pain, to hold at once love and grief.” —Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland
"The Last Fire Season is a gorgeous, soulfully written, intricately layered meditation on a region, a state, a body and a planet. Manjula Martin brings deep research, love, and attention to her exploration of northern California in polycrisis and weaves her findings with profound personal reflections on chronic pain and bodily harm. This is a work of memoir, ecology, physiology, political economy, horticulture, and history, and a profoundly moving work about humanity and home, both the individual places that we try to claim, and our singular, beautiful, complex planet in a moment of epochal change." — Lydia Kiesling, author of Mobility and The Golden State