Ava Sing Lo has been accidentally killing her mother's birds since she was a little girl. Now in her twenties, Ava leaves her native San Diego for the Salton Sea, where she volunteers to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural runoff.
Helen, her mother, has been haunted by her past for decades. As a young girl in Korea, Helen was drawn into prostitution on a segregated American army base. Several brutal years passed before a young white American soldier married her and brought her to California. When she gave birth to a black baby, her new husband quickly abandoned her, and she was left to fend for herself and her daughter in a foreign country.
With great beauty and lyricism, The Book of Dead Birds captures a young woman's struggle to come to terms with her mother's terrible past while she searches for her own place in the world.
This overlooked first novel is very good, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Gayle Brandeis won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize, and the back jacket carries an endorsement from Toni Morrison. Not at all bad for your first time out.The book moves back and forth between the story of a young Korean woman forced into prostitution on an American base, and her daughter by an unknown black serviceman. The title of the novel refers to the mother’s scrapbook memorializing the countless pet birds that her daughter has inadvertently slaughtered over the years. It's never 100% clear, actually, how accidental all the killings are. The daughter, Ava Sing Lo, is extraordinarily loyal to her mother, to the point of having internalized her mother's embarrassment and distance and turned them against herself, and so the unspoken possibility exists that the killings are unconscious acts of vengeance. The story, then, involves Ava's reclaiming of herself while simultaneously establishing common ground with her mother, on mutually supportive terms, for the first time in her life. The book also offers a terrific portrait of the communities surrounding southern California's Salton Sea, which is where Ava ransoms herself in the midst of a massive die-off of shorebirds.The language is wonderful, and the main characters are well drawn. There were a few points where the social message of the book threatened to hijack and eclipse the story, and there is one sub-plot involving a series of murders that is never adequately explained or resolved, but these are really minor criticisms, and I’d highly recommend the book. I’m especially interested in reading the author's future efforts. Her next novel is due out in early 2007, I believe. She has a website and her own blog. If she can win the marketing game and get the attention she deserves, I think she may be at the beginning of a very promising career.read more
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