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Birds of Paradise: A Novel Hardcover – Aug 23 2011


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Review

“This Jordanian American author writes about food so enticingly that her books should be published on sheets of phyllo dough. contains her most mouthwatering writing ever, but it’s no light after-dinner treat. This is a full-course meal, a rich, complex and memorable story that will leave you lingering gratefully at her table.” — Ron Charles (The Washington Post)

“The Muirs’ absorbing story builds to a thoroughly satisfying climax.” — Sue Corbett (People Magazine)

“The novel itself swells with life and style, with the stark contrast of the delicacy of fancy pastries and the down and dirty life on the beach.” — Alan Cheuse, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. (NPR, All Things Considered)

“Diana Abu-Jaber’s gorgeous novel explores the ways a modern family can break down and be reborn. She writes with a precise, almost poetic distillation of feeling, heightened in contrast to the ripe, exuberant landscape and the unsettled feelings of a family in limbo.” — Amy Driscoll (Miami Herald)

“With , Abu-Jaber has made an amazing, gigantic leap into rare air, that hazy stratosphere we jokingly call The Big Time. Her novel is that worthy, and that beautiful.” — Christine Selk (The Oregonian)

About the Author

Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of four novels, including Crescent, and a previous memoir, The Language of Baklava. She and her family divide time between Miami, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 59 reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Diana Abu-Jaber captures a family's grief and a cookie's soul Sept. 8 2011
By Susan Tunis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Tolstoy said, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In Diana Abu-Jaber's fourth novel, the Muirs of Miami are a deeply unhappy family. The tale is set in the days leading up to daughter, Felice's, 18th birthday. Her mother, Avis, is a talented pastry chef, running a high-end bakery out of their home. Her father, Brian, is a successful real estate attorney. And at 23, her older brother, Stanley, is running a business he's passionate about. These are privileged people with every reason to be content, but when Felice was only 13 years old, she ran away from home. She didn't run far. She's still in Miami, a "beach kid," sleeping outdoors or squatting in houses. But there's been virtually no contact with her family since she left, and it's torn them apart.

This is not a story of abuse or addiction--although there is abuse and there are drugs in her story. No, Felice was a supremely lovely and loved child being raised by flawed, but essentially good, people. And part of the suspense of the novel is the motivation for Felice's actions. No one can understand why this young girl went off the rails. At one point her father asks himself:

"What. What should he and Avis have done? Put their girl's face on a milk carton?
Missing: Felice Muir, Age 13.
Kidnapped by herself.
Motivation: Unknown
What child does such a thing as that? Could she have been that unhappy?"

The story is told in chapters that alternate between Avis's, Brian's, and Felice's points of view, until Stanley has his say near the novel's end. Based on this overly simple summary, Birds of Paradise sounds like a Lifetime original movie. Nothing could be further from the truth! Diana Abu-Jaber is a lush, evocative novelist capturing subtle emotions and interplays amongst her characters. There is all the grief and confusion you would expect of a family in this situation, but beyond the family unit, there are dangerous friendships and complicated interactions. There is so much happening on so many levels.

Abu-Jaber captures the atmospheric otherness of her setting. ("She remembers how Hannah hated everything about Miami--even some of the best things, like the hooked-nosed white ibises roaming around in the grass and the flowers that blew up into winter foliage--a tree or bush opening overnight into flower like perfumed flames.") And not just the exotic physicality of the place, but the uneasy clash of cultures. ("She'd felt disorientation strong as vertigo after they'd first moved to Miami--as if her magnetic poles had been switched. The drivers were appalling, punching their horns, running reds, cutting each other off like sworn enemies. There were certain shops and restaurants one would not wish to enter unless one spoke Spanish--and not at her halting, college intermediate level, either. There were whole neighborhoods and sections of town where she felt scrutinized and sized up. How many times had she waited by counters while salespeople went in search of `the one' who spoke English?")

Another reviewer described the novel as layered, and that is apt. On the surface, you have the story being told, the family drama. But in other layers, you've got the all kinds of subtext--the psychology of the characters, the social commentary, the time and the place. And there are external stressors ratcheting up tension as the book progresses: a husband's temptation, the danger of the streets, financial crises, and physical jeopardy.

The language is as sumptuous as the rich desserts that Avis creates, and fans of the author won't be surprised by the attention she lavishes on food within the text. Again, beyond mere description, the reader must ponder what is being said about sustenance, nurturing, creativity, privilege. The novel's opening sentence reads, "A cookie, Avis told her children, is a soul." Things are often more than they may at first seem in Abu-Jaber's adept hands. A cookie is more than a cookie, and a family is more than the tragedy that defines it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Birds of Pardise Sept. 24 2012
By Kate Runyan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book as I loved Diana Abu-Jaber's first 3 books, but I didn't like Origin or Birds of Paradise. To me, this latest book seemed very flat with cardboard characters, and much of it wasn't believable.The more I got into the book the less I liked it, and it seemed very disjointed; including Felice's reasons for running away , her being able to survive for 5 years as a run-away but still be lovely and unharmed by the experience that seems totally nuts. In reality she probably would have been on hard drugs, eating from trash cans, and turning tricks none of which is really dealt it. it's very lyrical and poetic, but it's not realistic or believable, and ultimately it became very tedious and annoying. I totally agree with some of the comments that were made, this is really annoying book.
Crescent and Arabian Jazz were very good books, and I loved them, and I also loved Ms. Abu-Jaber's family memoir - The Language of Baklava. I wish she would get back to writing other books similar in style to her earlier books as they were far more interesting and more engaging than her later 2 books, and additionally the characters in the earlier books were much better portrayed.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber Dec 20 2011
By Marvi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There's not much backbone here on which this author can hang her lush prose and unusual imagery. Other readers have pointed out how hard it is to swallow many of the central and peripheral elements of this plot, but there's also a coldness--not only in Felice, but also in Stanley and Nieves--that's alienating. Even at the end, Felice leaves the reaching out entirely to her mother. It's hard to care about characters who demonstrate their capacity for caring only to a select few.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Slow, painful read Nov. 3 2011
By A. Winesett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Let me preface by saying, while this book felt slow and cumbersome, it has an amazing story. I'd actually like to know MORE of the story. Just not written in this way. It feels painful at times, and was difficult to just sink in and live the story in my normal manner.

I was left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and heaviness, despite the author's attempt at leaving this book on an uplifting note.

I personally read as a form of escapism. My book club elected to read this book, though, so I dug in eagerly, hoping to discover a gem I would learn to love. Although I connected with the characters individually and in their interactions with one another, I was left feeling as though all of them were being sheltered, shrouded, and treated as incomplete entities. Perhaps this was deliberate, in order to emphasize their disconnection.

I would actually rate this a 3.5 star, not just a 3. But that isn't an option Amazon is giving me. And, while the jumping back and forth between memory, the four main characters, and the timeline (sometimes re-living the beginning of a particular time with different characters, therefore feeling as though you're re-creating scenarios) was a little disconcerting, I did enjoy the writer's voice. Had I not been left feeling unfulfilled at the end of the book, I probably would have given 4 stars
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Masterful Oct. 18 2011
By AgnesMack - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Birds of Paradise had me hooked from the start, and took me on a meandering, tense journey that I won't soon forget.

The book tells the story of a family's heartbreak over the seemingly causeless runaway of their 14 year old daughter. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and gives us insight into how each family member deals with that heartbreak individually, from the mother, father, brother - and the runaway herself.

Through much of the book, I was left wondering what exactly led to the family's current predicament, but as the details begin to slowly take shape, I realized that the `why' was not nearly as important as the effect it had on this family. I wanted to sit down, shake each one of them, and make them listen to each other.

Diana Abu-Jaber's writing is completely breathtaking. It is books like this that make me want to give up on my own fiction. From grief, to despair, to hopefulness and back again, this is a book that will make you feel.

p.s. It is my duty to inform you that I received a free review copy from the publisher.


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