Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – Book 32

I had read a few reviews on Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Books Speak Volumes, Books are my Boyfriends) and finally received the digital copy from the library.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I really enjoyed this novel.

Swamplandia! (and yes, the !!!!! is part of the title, which kills me, seriously, but I have to keep it to make this more authentic) is a book about an attraction off the coast of Florida on a small island.  The Bigtree family runs this theme park, with attractions such as alligator wrestling and swimming with the alligators.  The park is successful, until Hilola, the matriarch, dies of cancer and a new mainland theme park (focusing on the uplifting topic of death and hell) is driving the tourists away.

From there, the family falls apart.  The Chief (AKA Dad) has no money to sustain Swamplandia! and has some crazy schemes with which to save it.  Kiwi, the seventeen year old son, is fed up and decides to take actions into his own hands.  Osceola, the sixteen year old daughter, becomes obsessed with a book on spirits and “dates” the dead.

The only sane one seems to be Ava, the youngest child, who has the main goal of keeping the family together.  When the family seems to split apart, Ava and a stranger, the Bird Man, take a trip to help bring everyone together.  But who is this Bird Man?

I really enjoyed reading Swamplandia!  I’m from South Florida, so I can picture a lot of what is going on in this book.  I also love Ava’s innocence as well as her persistence.  She can be a tragic figure at times as well.  Kiwi is going through such a tough time, trying to become a man on the mainland (as opposed to the secluded island) as well as save his family’s business.  He’s a really great character as well.  Very honest and hardworking, always thinking the best of everyone.

Should you read Swamplandia!?  Yes, I think this is a great book to add to your to-read list!

Tell me about the time you wrestled an alligator!



13 thoughts on “Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – Book 32

  1. I read this book with my book club in Washington DC last winter. (That was prior to my move to western China with the Foreign Service. Oh, how I miss my book club!)

    With my first reading, I was actually on the fence about this one, but after meeting with the ladies over some snacks and drinks, I discovered nuances that weren’t on my radar when I read it myself. I walked away from that evening ready to recommend the book to all my friends and family back in Idaho!

    Here’s my review of it, if you are interested: http://insearchoftheendofthesidewalk.com/2012/02/10/swamplandia-by-karen-russell/


    • I want to be in a real-life book club sooooo badly! But I did start a digital one and we are reading Gone Girl (not too late to come join us if you are interested! http://loveatfirstbook.com/2012/10/09/book-club-gone-girl-by-gillian-flynn-sign-up-start-up/). And Unputdownables is doing a Hobbit one, that I don’t think started yet or just started, and there are others out there, too!

      On to Swamplandia! I’m from South Florida and have been on airboat rides and Native American Reservations, so I had a decent background to the book before I started reading. I’ve also visited places similar to Swamplandia! with alligators all around. I think that helped me with my initial reading interest, since I had a lot to compare to. But then the book went deeper, more into the background of the actual family and their struggles both with Swampandia! and with the family relationships.

      Even though they disagree, and so things they may not be so proud of, they are supportive of each other in the end.

      I will definitely check out your post and comment over there! 🙂


  2. This was one of those books that pleasantly surprised me! I hadn’t heard anything about it (back before I blogged) and I checked it out from the library based on the jacket description and the wacko cover 😉

    No alligator wrestling for this girl!!


    • You sure? You seem like the alligator wrestler! I mean, you probably have alligators crawling allllll over where you live! 😉

      On a side note, I was in late middle school or something close, and I was ordering a pair of pants from a mall store b/c they didn’t have them in my size or something, and was on the phone with some woman who was from the midwest somewhere. When she found out I was in South Florida, she’s like “Oh my goodness, there are alligators all over Florida!!!! How do you not get eaten???” It was hilarious because I think I’ve seen maybe 2 alligators ever in the “wild” of the golf courses, neighborhoods, highways.


  3. I challenged myself to read all of the Tournament of Books books, and this was one of the books in the Tournament. I wasn’t sure what to think of it going in, but Russell’s writing was great and the characters were wonderfully quirky without losing the power of the narrative. The Bird Man was a character I ultimately loved to hate, and Ava was just brilliant. A very surprising book indeed!


  4. Pingback: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – Book 42 « Love at First Book

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