No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies: A Lyric Essay

Indigenous human rights lawyer Julian Aguon (The Properties of Perpetual Light) is passionate about protecting his homeland of Guam, which is threatened by climate change and military expansion. No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies, his tender collage of autobiographical vignettes and public addresses, inspires activism and celebrates beauty worth preserving.

The U.S. Department of Defense's plan to site more Marines and firing ranges on Guam will destroy more than 1,000 acres of limestone forest--home to endemic and endangered species, including the Mariana eight-spot butterfly. Aguon has been a lead litigator in appeals rising all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rejecting fatalism, he endorses peaceful resistance. Grief is both personal and collective here. Aguon lost his father to cancer when he was a boy. A member of the Chamorros, he feels affinity with the marginalized; he even discovers that two ancestors escaped from a leper colony. Among his oft-quoted heroes are Toni Morrison and Arundhati Roy (the latter provides an introduction). Feminists and social activists taught him that racism and other forms of oppression are a "distraction" from the "work of turning our lives into art." Aguon transforms life into art by rendering certain memories into poems--meeting Sherman Alexie, whose books made him want to write; childhood adventures; and his grandmothers' cooking.

Two commencement speeches, a eulogy and an interview round out this varied and heartfelt collection. The author's deep love for Guam's people and nature shines through. Despite sadness and setbacks, he writes, "eyes wide with wonder is a perfectly good definition of magic." --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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