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Turtle Thoughts (Two of Them)

February 4, 2014 | by


Photo: Tarek Chowdhury

Russell Hoban, a Pennsylvanian who lived most of his life in London, was born in 1925 and died in 2011, leaving behind a wondrous collection of sixteen novels for adults and even more for children. Hoban’s Turtle Diary—in which two aloof, single Londoners conspire to free sea turtles from the zoo—was reissued last year and should be required reading for anyone who lives alone, feels alone, or may one day reckon with loneliness. It’s endlessly quotable, and not in the cheap, aphoristic way that people sometimes mean when they say “endlessly quotable”—Hobanisms do not belong on tea bags or T-shirts, or even necessarily in Bartlett’s. It’s more that the whole novel demands to be read aloud, ideally to an audience of one. It might be most fitting, actually, if you read it aloud to yourself. Here are two of the novel’s many delightful “turtle thoughts”:

The sign said: “The Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the source of turtle soup … ” I am the source of William G. soup if it comes to that. Everyone is the source of his or her kind of soup.

I think of the turtles swimming steadily against the current all the way to Ascension. I think of them swimming through all that golden-green water over the dark, over the chill of the deeps and the jaws of the dark. And I think of the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going, the steady wing-strokes of the flippers in the water. Then it doesn’t seem hard to believe. It seems the only way to do it, the only way in fact to be: swimming, swimming, the eye held by the sun, no sharks in the mind, nothing in the mind.




  1. Diana Slickman | February 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Thank you, Dan, for participating (unknowingly?) in the Slickman A4 Quotation Event, an annual celebration of Russell Hoban and his work. Every February 4th, fans around the world send Hoban quotes out into the world, traditionally, but not exclusively,on sheets of A4 yellow paper. Participants share their efforts here: We’re pleased to have you among our number. Here’s to Russ!

  2. Dan Piepenbring | February 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I’m happy to have made an inadvertent contribution. Next year (by which time I hope to have read more Hoban) I’ll break out the A4 paper.

  3. DHMCarver | February 5, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Dan, glad to see you are jumping on the RH bandwagon. Good luck finding his work in the US — most were only published in the UK. I bought most of my complete set of Hoban in Ireland and Scotland when living or travelling in Ireland and the UK. The rest I had to order from UK sources. You will find that once you start jotting down RH passages or lines that strike your fancy or get you thinking, you won’t be able to stop.

  4. Lindsay Edmunds | February 6, 2014 at 8:29 am

    That is one of my favorite Turtle Diary quotations, too. I blogged it once, too.

  5. Doug K | May 24, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    read Turtle Diary at the age of 16, in South Africa – recommended it to my father, who also appreciated it, but was I think a bit startled and alarmed by having it recommended by me.. ha.

    Always think of this passage
    “the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going”
    when swimming long distances in open water.. that is exactly it.

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