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Soundings

Journeys in the Company of Whales: A Memoir

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“This stunning book blends nature writing of the most urgent kind with precise and poetic observation of human tribulation and the interconnectedness of all things. Fresh, brave, and unique.” —Damian Le Bas, author of The Stopping Places

In this memoir of motherhood, love, and resilience, a woman and her toddler son follow the grey whale migration from Mexico to northernmost Alaska.

In this striking blend of nature writing, whale science, and memoir, Doreen Cunningham interweaves two stories: tracking the extraordinary northward migration of the grey whales with a mischievous toddler in tow and living with an Iñupiaq family in Alaska seven years earlier. Throughout the journey she explores the stories of the whales and their young calves—their history, their habits, and their attempts to survive the changes humans have brought to the ocean.

Cunningham’s voice is powerful: sharp, profound, sensitive, and unflinching. A story of courage and resilience, Soundings is about the migrating whales and all we can learn from them as they mother, adapt, and endure, their lives interrupted and threatened by global warming. It is also a riveting journey onto the Arctic Sea ice and into the changing world of Indigenous whale hunters, where Doreen becomes immersed in the ancient values of the Iñupiaq whale hunt and falls in love. For this is Doreen’s story, too—a fierce, feminist tale, touching on her childhood and her time living in a Women’s Refuge with her baby, becoming a mother, just like the whales.

Lyrical, brave, and fearlessly honest, Soundings is an unforgettable journey.

Photograph by Joanna Szymkiewicz

Doreen Cunningham is an Irish-British writer born in Wales. After studying engineering Doreen worked briefly in climate-related research at the Natural Environment Research Council and in storm modeling at Newcastle University before turning to journalism. She has worked for the BBC World Service variously as an international news presenter, editor, producer, and reporter since 2000. She won the RSL Giles St Aubyn Award 2020 and was shortlisted for the Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writers Award 2021 for Soundings, her first book.

"This stunning book blends nature writing of the most urgent kind with precise and poetic observation of human tribulation and the interconnectedness of all things. Fresh, brave and unique."
—Damian Le Bas, author of The Stopping Places

"Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured."
—Ramita Navai, author of City of Lies

"Cunningham's scientific knowledge and gorgeous prose take us on an extraordinary journey as she forges a remarkable connection with these astonishing creatures and issues an impassioned plea for our shared futures. Soundings is a completely unique, unforgettable book."
—Erica Wagner, author of Seizure and Chief Engineer