Birds of Paradise: A Novel Hardcover – Aug 23 2011
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This Jordanian American author writes about food so enticingly that her books should be published on sheets of phyllo dough. Birds of Paradise 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 Birds of Paradise, 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 two memoirs, Life Without a Recipe and The Language of Baklava. She and her family divide time between Miami, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
We all thought that the author brought realistic heartbreaking accounts of how a tragedy can affect each family member. Most of the characters weren't overly likeable which didn't help matters and the book was just depressing, filled with loneliness, emptiness, and dragged on and on.
I think the author over-described things to the point of making the book tedious. I also had a tough time believing some of the things she describes which I'll list in the comments but won't put them in the review so it won't be a spoiler.
Can't say I'd recommend this one. If you haven't read Crescent by this author, give it a try.
One issue I have with stories such as these is the long time it takes to build the story and get it to a level where it starts to sustain itself. I have learned great restraint in not giving up too soon because in some cases, the story is worth seeing through to the end. It's a chance the reader takes, a gamble on time well spent or perhaps not. Another issue is that some authors are too smart and talented for their own good. I mean by this that (not everyone will agree) there are stories that are so heavy on descriptive prose that it literally gets in its own way. I have mentioned this before and it does happen to be a pet peeve of mine because the essence of the story as well as the characters gets drowned out by overly descriptive geography. Yes, its great to paint an accurate picture of time and place and fill out the reader's sensory experience but come on, sometimes it's all just way too much of a good thing. This was the case for me with this book. Still, by the end I was fully conditioned to the author's style. There are plenty of good insights and the biggest gem is that though this family has separated in ways both physical and emotional, each living a mostly singular life, they are four people with a wealth of integrity.