The Small Heart of Things
Being at Home in a Beckoning World

Julian Hoffman

A lyrical and wide-ranging meditation on the nature of place and home


“This writer is a seeker and seer among those who work the land within the cycles of time. He knows how to listen and not simply catalog nature, both human and wild, but create a tapestry of embodied stories born out of the intimate wisdom of sweat and hunger and an earthly intelligence. At a time when we wonder where hope resides, this is a book of faith in the natural histories of community, broken and sustained. Not only does the language honor the encountered beauties along the way, it explores a complexity of ideas that reminds us we are not strangers in the world if we remain open to awe and respectful of the tenacious spirit required to live in place. The Small Heart of Things is a book of patience.”
—Terry Tempest Williams, author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World

“‘To be at home in the world is to let ourselves be drawn into its embrace,’ writes Julian Hoffman in this sparkling, humane collection of essays. Something similar can be said about reading his exquisite book—we’re drawn into the warmth and intimacy of his meditations. Part travel writing, part environmental witness, part celebration of the human spirit in the more-than-human world, this book guides us to a distant landscape of borders visible and invisible and of enriching change. Throughout, Hoffman is a superb tour guide: observant, knowledgeable, and deftly surprising in the connections he makes among the myriad small things he enables us to see.”
—Elizabeth Dodd, author of Horizon’s Lens

"A sharply observed . . . collection of essays on the interrelationships of man and nature, of soul and place . . . A deeply felt book that will lead readers to other books that inspired it."
Kirkus Reviews

"Julian Hoffman's vast knowledge of the natural world is surpassed only by his deep compassion for all beings—human and otherwise—who inhabit this planet we all share. The Small Heart of Things is a big-hearted book written in prose as clear and strong as the stunningly beautiful Greek landscape it describes."
—BK Loren, author of Theft

"The best essays in The Small Heart of Things examine intricate problems of place and legacy. . . . What makes Hoffman’s plea for a deeper engagement with the natural world so arresting is that this engagement doesn’t come at the expense of a relationship with the often-messy political and social environments of a place, but rather strengthens it. Hoffman’s tranquility is not a passive retreat from our tumultuously loud, permanently distracted era; his project is to exert a compassionate mindfulness in the face of apathy—apathy toward the environment, or toward overlooked or forgotten populations."
—Caitlin Keefe Moran, Iowa Review

"In writing this remarkable work of environmental and natural-history literature, Hoffman resided in the Prespa Lakes Transboundary Park shared by Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These seventeen short essays capture an intensely focused, curious, tireless, supremely gifted writer as he acquaints himself with himself and one of the world's most unique places."
—Matt Sutherland, ForeWord Reviews

"The message of finding wonder in our surroundings, as familiar as it may seem, is fresh here. The prose soothes. The pages absorb you. Hoffman’s world is endlessly instructive and inclusive. It’s our world, too, if we wish to see it that way. An environment on its own is uninflected, but it becomes a home when we attach experience to it. Any place—and every place—can be a home. The Small Heart of Things is a celebration of spaces and the hidden, miraculous lives within them, but it’s a quiet celebration, the pause after you open a gift, truly surprised, and inhabit a speechless moment."
—Scott Onak, The Rumpus

“As I read the book, which I have done slowly, saving a chapter a day as a meditative treat, I find myself drawn out of indifference. The doors of my perception are opened wider. . . .Each handcrafted story shows us how the doors of our perception are opened, if, like the author, we pay loving attention to the places around us. Our universal human capacity for attention, when finely honed, as in this wordsmith’s collection, enables us to see the beauty in the ordinary as in the marvellous.”
—Shaun Lambert, The Baptist Times

"[I]n this collection of short essays, Hoffman strives, patiently and thoughtfully and with great attention to the nuances of both the nature of the task and the search, to address [a] perennial concern of the nature-writing genre. . . . Hoffman does not fail to find the magnificent in habitats both pristine and disturbed. Nature, for him, is everywhere and only waiting to be discovered and engaged. His essays crystallize these discoveries into experiences able to be shared between him and the reader using language rich in metaphor and lyricism."
—Frank Izaguirre,

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In The Small Heart of Things, Julian Hoffman intimately examines the myriad ways in which connections to the natural world can be deepened through an equality of perception, whether it’s a caterpillar carrying its house of leaves, transhumant shepherds ranging high mountain pastures, a quail taking cover on an empty steppe, or a Turkmen family emigrating from Afghanistan to Istanbul.

Guided by Rainer Maria Rilke’s belief that “everything beckons us to perceive it,” Hoffman explores the area around the Prespa Lakes, shared by Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. From there he travels widely, believing that through awareness, curiosity, and openness we have the potential to forge abiding relationships with a range of places. The Small Heart of Things is a book about looking and listening. It incorporates travel and natural history writing, interweaving human stories with those of wild creatures as Hoffman illuminates how, when we accord places our close and patient attention, these many connections can teach us to be at home in the world.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction

Page count: 168 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $19.95

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Julian Hoffman was born in England and grew up in Canada. In 2000, he and his wife, Julia, moved to the Prespa Lakes in northern Greece where, after some years as market gardeners, they now monitor birds in sensitive upland areas where wind farms have been built or proposed. His essay “Faith in a Forgotten Place,” which is taken from the manuscript of The Small Heart of Things, won the 2011 Nonfiction Prize. Other writing has recently appeared in Kyoto Journal, Southern Humanities Review, EarthLines, Flyway, Cold Mountain Review, Three Coyotes, and Redwood Coast Review.