Birds of Paradise
Diana Abu-Jaber
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Buy *Birds of Paradise* by Diana Abu-Jaber online

Birds of Paradise
Diana Abu-Jaber
W.W. Norton
362 pages
September 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Like fine wine, Abu-Jaberís writing has gotten richer and more varied with time, her love affair with food and family expanded to the Muirs in a lush Miami landscape just prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The hidden depths of grief, loss and identity leave this family of four devastated after beautiful thirteen-year-old Felice runs away from home with no explanation, her parents unable to come to terms with this tragedy or the despair left in its wake.

A baker of extraordinary desserts, her kitchen a dream factory for every elaborate confection imaginable, the flurry of sugar and flour that has sustained Avis for years is now a mockery, daily ritual a hollow exercise. As Feliceís eighteenth birthday nears, Avis wanders her home, distracted, her family grown ever more distant. Brian, an attorney for an avaricious Miami developer, spends his days on auto-pilot, light years away from the average folk displaced by his efforts on behalf of his employer. Musing on the charms of a young woman whose glass-walled office is tantalizingly near his, Brianís ruminations on a woman hardly older than his missing daughter drift into dangerous territory, and he befriends the beauty who breaches his considerable reserves with a combination of flattery and dependency.

Stanley Muir, once college-bound, eschewed the future of his parentsí expectations, devoting himself instead to cultivating his knowledge of and appreciation for natural foods, finally realizing his dream of a sustainable food co-op. Although financial trouble looms, Stanley has performed brilliantly, a fact all but lost on Avis and Brian, who navigate in a fugue state without Felice to animate their days.

Oblivious to the beauty that sets her apart from a multitude of hapless runaways, Felice guards a secret, a corrosive burden she carries in self-imposed solitary confinement, convinced she has already experienced the worst life has to offer. As Katrina hurls toward Miami, so does an unintended brush with danger that sends Feliceís sense of invincibility spiraling to earth, confidence destroyed in an irrevocable act of violence.

As Avis follows the shrill screams of a neighborís mynah bird that intrude upon her private purgatory, thought-shattering screeches that just as suddenly mimic the plaintive cry of a child for its mother, she stumbles upon Haitian refugee Solange in a thicket of grasses, leaves and healing herbs. The scowling Solange, as wise as she is intimidating, does not fail to observe the other womanís brokenness. Sharing her own heartbreaking story, she coaxes Avis to a place where the slow process of healing can begin. As Katrina strikes, Felice learns the risk of false assumptions, Avis the awakened shape of forgiveness and identity, Brian the duplicity of false gods, and Stanley the fullness of family and a hopeful future.

This novel is an unexpected bounty of ethnicity, culture, music and the changeable terrain of societyís haves and have-nots, gentrification annihilating the essence that makes the city unique - Cubans, Haitians, mellifluous language and rhythm that animate Miami. Abu-Jaberís appeal is universal, multi-cultural and joyful, a tangled world experienced through the prism of family, a microcosm of humanityís most damning flaws and finest moments. Diana Abu-Jaberís language of the heart transcends borders, a refreshing wash of hope in a time of need.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2011

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