Go to Homepage   Gayle Brandeis: The Book of Dead Birds

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsHarper Collins Perennial (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0-06-052804-4

In 2003, The Book of Dead Birds won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. What prize, you ask? In 1999, Barbara Kingsolver created a biannual award to encourage "serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice, and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." This sounds rather lofty, but it really boils down to novels that work engaging characters and story lines into some too-uncomfortable-to-be-faced-so-let's-ignore/forget-it situations around the world.

Book: gayle brandeis, the book of dead birds
In The Book of Dead Birds, Brandeis narrates a coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a man-made environmental blunder near California's inland Salton Sea. This blunder ultimately results in the death of some fourteen thousand wild birds. Her protagonist, Ava Sing Lo, a twenty-something, mixed-race native of southern California, spends a few weeks in the disaster area assisting with the volunteer effort to try and save some of threatened pelicans.

The Ava we meet carries as much weighty baggage around her neck as did the Ancient Mariner of the well-known Rime. Her burden, however, arises not from any albatross -- although she does display a rather unlucky aptitude for inadvertently hastening the deaths of her mother's ever-lengthening string of pet birds. It arises from the accident of her parentage and from what she learns over the years about her Korean mother's experience at the hands of the U.S. military stationed in Korea during the late 1960s.

What a remarkable read! If you also devour everything that Barbara Kingsolver publishes, if you wait impatiently as I do for her to write something more, then you will understand why I pounced so eagerly upon the opportunity to review Gayle Brandeis's first novel. But before you succumb to the pleasant fiction that the background of the book derived entirely from Brandeis's imagination, turn to the last three paragraphs of her end-of-book acknowledgements.

Moira Richards

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