Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Is An EX Pelican....!

The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel

The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis (2003).

What is good about this novel is very good indeed. Mostly good prose (I'm not going to join the chorus that called it 'lyrical'), delivering a story that moves across a generation (panning from a daughter's story to her mother's) with a notably brisk pace. Scenes from Korean islands, G.I. brothels, and contemporary southern California are rendered vividly.

Ava Sing Lo is the black-skinned daughter of a Korean woman who is fascinated by birds; the daughter has an uncanny knack for bringing about the death of these birds. The daughter finds herself seeking out a devastated coastal area where a botulism outbreak is causing a massive "die-off" in the local bird population, helping volunteer efforts to rescue and rehabilitate as many as birds as possible. This becomes a tale of healing for herself and for her mother, whose story unfolds during the course of the novel (in a different typeface, for some reason).

The principal characters are for the most part multi-dimensional and interesting. The occasional visits by the police are a bit tin-pan alley and cartoonish, and the white G.I. who loved Ava's mother supposedly lost his heart while watching her vomit on the street. "The white puke of an angel," he calls it. Silly silly silly (and really gross).

Still, it is worth spending a little time with Miss Ava Sing Lo and her remarkable mother.

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