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The Gospel of the Eels

A Father, a Son and the World's Most Enigmatic Fish

Patrik Svensson Agnes Broome

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Picador
27 July 2021
'I can't recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream. Actually, I can't remember us speaking at all. Maybe because we never did.' The European eel, Anguilla anguilla, is one of the strangest creatures nature ever created. Remarkably little is known about the eel, even today. What we do know is that it's born as a tiny willow-leaf shaped larva in the Sargasso Sea, travels on the ocean currents toward the coasts of Europe - a journey of about four thousand miles that takes at least two years. Upon arrival, it transforms itself into a glass eel and then into a yellow eel before it wanders up into fresh water. It lives a solitary life, hiding from light and science both, for ten, twenty, fifty years, before migrating back to the sea in the autumn, morphing into a silver eel and swimming all the way back to the Sargasso Sea, where it breeds and dies.

And yet . . . There is still so much we don't know about eels. No human has ever seen eels reproduce; no one can give a complete account of the eel's metamorphoses or say why they are born and die in the Sargasso Sea; no human has even seen a mature eel in the Sargasso Sea. Ever. And now the eel is disappearing, and we don't know exactly why.

What we do know is that eels and their mysterious lives captivate us.

This is the basis for Patrik Svensson's quite unique natural science memoir; his ongoing fascination with this secretive fish, but also the equally perplexing and often murky relationship he shared with his father, whose only passion in life was fishing for this obscure creature.

Through the exploration of eels in literature (Gunter Grass and Graham Swift feature, amongst others) in the history of science (we learn about Aristotle's and Sigmund Freud's complicated relationships with eels) as well as modern marine biology (Rachel Carson and others) we get to know this peculiar animal, and in this exploration, also learn about the human condition, life and death, through natural science and nature writing at its very best.

As Patrik Svensson concludes: 'by writing about eels, I have in some ways found my way home again.'
By:   Patrik Svensson
Translated by:   Agnes Broome
Imprint:   Picador
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 197mm,  Width: 132mm,  Spine: 18mm
Weight:   194g
ISBN:   9781529030709
ISBN 10:   1529030706
Pages:   256
Publication Date:   27 July 2021
Recommended Age:   From 18 years
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Patrik Svensson (b. 1972) is an arts and culture journalist at Sydsvenskan newspaper. He lives with his family in Malmoe in southern Sweden. The Gospel of the Eels is his first book.

Reviews for The Gospel of the Eels: A Father, a Son and the World's Most Enigmatic Fish

For weeks after reading I found myself cornering people at parties to obliterate them with a machine-gun spray of eel facts . . . 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. * New York magazine * Svensson's book, like its subject, is a strange beast: a creature of metamorphosis, a shape-shifter that moves among realms. It is a book of natural history, and a memoir about a son and his father. It is also an exploration of literature and religion and custom, and what it means to live in a world full of questions we can't always answer. * New Yorker * Drawing from literature, science and his own studies, Svensson inspires readers to see eels in a whole new way. * Los Angeles Times * Captivating . . . The Gospel of the Eels is, in the end, not really about eels but about life itself . . . 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. * Wall Street Journal *


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