Birds of Paradise

Birds of Paradise

2.8 12
by Diana Abu-Jaber
     
 

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In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos, skateboarding, clubbing, and sleeping in a squat house or on the beach, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family—Avis, an

Overview

In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos, skateboarding, clubbing, and sleeping in a squat house or on the beach, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family—Avis, an exquisitely talented pastry chef; Brian, a corporate real estate attorney; and her brother, Stanley, the proprietor of Freshly Grown, a trendy food market—will each be forced to confront their anguish, loss, and sense of betrayal. Meanwhile, Felice must reckon with the guilty secret that drove her away, and must face her fear of losing her family and her sense of self forever.

This multilayered novel about a family that comes apart at the seams—and finds its way together again—is totally involving and deeply satisfying, a glorious feast of a book.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Abu-Jaber's fourth novel (after Origin) is a stunning portrayal of a damaged family. Five years before, at 13, beautiful Felice Muir ran away from home and her mother, Avis, father, Brian, and older brother, Stanley, to live on the streets of Miami. Avis relies on sporadic meetings with her daughter although Felice often neglects to appear. When Brian thinks of Felice, he focuses on the past: "In that warm salty night, he felt as if the texture of time itself were thickening, settling over them, as if they would be held together in the froth of air, its silky threads attaching and keeping them safe, everlasting family." Work keeps all of them absorbed: Avis is an expert pastry chef, Brian a real estate lawyer haunted by Miami's gentrification, Stanley the owner of a popular organic food shop, and even Felice has occasional modeling gigs that bring in small influxes of cash. Felice has left them, but her parents and brother are also alienated from one other as they mark the passage of time and reflect on Felice's upcoming 18th birthday. Abu-Jaber's effortless prose, fully fleshed characters, and a setting that reflects the adversity in her protagonists' lives come together in a satisfying and timely story. (Sept.)
O Magazine
Abu-Jaber makes us wonder about more that what will happen to one girl with a guilty secret. What, after all, does it mean to be a family? Is love really 'exchangeable, malleable'? We can’t help turning pages full of stunning prose to find out.— Sarah Nelson
Miami Herald
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
The Oregonian
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
People Magazine
The Muirs’ absorbing story builds to a thoroughly satisfying climax.— Sue Corbett
The Washington Post
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
Sarah Nelson - O Magazine
“Abu-Jaber makes us wonder about more that what will happen to one girl with a guilty secret. What, after all, does it mean to be a family? Is love really 'exchangeable, malleable'? We can’t help turning pages full of stunning prose to find out.”
Amy Driscoll - Miami Herald
“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.”
Christine Selk - The Oregonian
“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.”
Sue Corbett - People Magazine
“The Muirs’ absorbing story builds to a thoroughly satisfying climax.”
Ron Charles - The Washington Post
“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.”
Alan Cheuse
“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.”
Library Journal
Stunningly beautiful Felice Muir spends her 18th birthday getting wasted at the beach with her homeless friends. Her pastry-chef mother, Avis, bakes her a cake but ends up crumbling it into the ocean as a potion-savvy Haitian neighbor looks on. Felice's father, Brian, and her brother, Stanley, simply try to ignore the day. Having run away from home at 13 to exorcise her guilt over a teenage prank gone wrong, Felice has spent the intervening years on the streets of Miami, occasionally earning money by modeling. The family deals with Felice's disappearance—and occasional reappearance—by immersing themselves in their work: Avis in her pastry business, Brian as an attorney in a development firm, and Stanley in his organic market. VERDICT Whether it's the creation of evanescent confections or the drug-ridden life of the streets, award-winning writer Abu-Jaber (Origin) impressively describes vastly different worlds with equal expertise. Particularly notable in this exceptionally written novel is Miami itself, portrayed as vividly as any of the characters. A literary family drama with extra appeal to foodies. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]—Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Abu-Jaber (Origin, 2007, etc.) uses a plot staple of standard-issue domestic melodrama—a family dealing with a runaway daughter—to develop a meticulous, deeply moving portrayal of imperfect human beings struggling to do right.

Miami, churning with money, steamy energy and clashing cultures shortly before the recent real-estate crash, is the evocative setting. Elite pastry chef Avis Muir and her husband Brian, a corporate lawyer for a big developer, remain in crisis five years after their stunningly beautiful daughter Felice ran away. Still in Miami, Felice has met briefly with her mother a handful of times, but neither her father nor older brother Stanley, whom Avis always neglected in her obsession with Felice, has seen her since she was 13. As a hurricane approaches, the characters are buffeted by their own internal storms. Increasingly brittle and withdrawn, Avis finds herself drawn to a mysterious Haitian neighbor with her own terrible family secrets. Passive Brian, overwhelmed with his sense of failure as husband and father, is tempted both to have an affair and to invest in a cockamamie real estate deal. Stanley, always underrated by his parents, is now the charismatic proprietor of a wildly popular organic market he fears he may lose to encroaching development. About to turn 18, Felice is outgrowing her life as a street kid but believes she must stay away from home to punish herself for past acts. Glorious descriptions, both of nature and Avis's mouthwatering pastry, offset yet intensify the jagged emotions of the Muirs.

In this provocative exploration of the fault lines of loyalty and guilt, Abu-Jaber's searing perceptions, particularly about parents and children, more than make up for a less than convincing ending or an occasional lapse into overlabored prose.

Ron Charles
Diana Abu-Jaber's delicious new novel weighs less than two pounds, but you may gain more than that by reading it. If you know her cream-filled work—especially Crescent and The Language of Baklava—you're already salivating. 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.
—The Washington Post
Cristina Garcia
In the end, the indisputable stars of Birds of Paradise are Felice and Miami itself, with its obliterating light, its "perfumed flames" of vegetation, the grand theater of its skies, its "running currents of Spanish." Miami and Felice mirror each other, getting under our skin, making us sweat to soaking. Abu-Jaber has captured Miami's insiders and outsiders, the ordinary and the outlandish, the hype, the hurricanes, the hoopla.
—The New York Times Book Review
Booklist
“Narrator Tamara Marston portrays the main characters—mother, father, daughter, and son—with feeling and sensitivity. Her reading recognizes that the city of Miami, where the novel is set, is also a character, and she infuses the descriptions of the landscape and urban setting with meaning.”
AudioFile
Elle
It is Birds of Paradise’s neither predictable nor merely haphazard momentum and its rich cast of characters that make us feel we’re in deliciously capable hands.— Bliss Broyard
More
An unusually satisfying read.— Susanna Sonnenberg
New York Times Book Review
Miami comes alive . .
. the ambitions and accents of its inhabitants become as impossible to resist as a postprandial siesta in the tropics.— Cristina Garcia
Washington Times
“Brilliant… Birds of Paradise is likely to add further luster to [Abu-Jaber’s] literary reputation. … With her evocative prose and accomplished style, Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise explores with wisdom and insight the emotional fallout of a shattering family crisis. Yet in this profoundly moving novel, she also manages to unearth the inherent, cathartic beauty of family and individual survival in this complex and perilous new century.”
Bliss Broyard - Elle
“It is Birds of Paradise’s neither predictable nor merely haphazard momentum and its rich cast of characters that make us feel we’re in deliciously capable hands.”
Susanna Sonnenberg - More
“An unusually satisfying read.”
Cristina Garcia - New York Times Book Review
“Miami comes alive . .
. the ambitions and accents of its inhabitants become as impossible to resist as a postprandial siesta in the tropics.”
From the Publisher
“Nuanced and deftly drawn. . . . Will [also] draw teens.”
Booklist

“Tamara Marston’s strong delivery provides the characters with distinct voices, helping to make the richly developed and intriguing cast of players as well as the delicious words come alive.”
Library Journal [starred review]

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393064612
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/06/2011
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. She divides her time between Portland, Oregon, and Miami, Florida.

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Birds of Paradise 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Birds of Paradise takes a little getting used to. Each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character, so the timelines get confusing. The characters are all doing their best to survive the story they know, and all are in pain. So, this is definitely a drama and any resolution is good.
VictoriaAllman More than 1 year ago
There are books you read for the enjoyment of the story and ones you read for the language of the author. Diana Abu-Jaber has written a book that includes both. You can not help but be swept up in both the riveting story of a young run-away girl on the streets af Miami and the lyrical language of life for her family who struggles to come to terms with her absence. This book is flavored with the language of food. With the disappearance of Felice, both mother and son turn to their love of food and baking to see their way through the years. Birds of Paradise follows closely behind Diana's previous works in its food-driven descriptions and themes. I have loved every one of Abu-Jaber's books and feel that this is her best yet. As a chef, I can not help but be envious of Diana's obvious command of pastries and cooking and her ability to describe the flavors and techniques of cuisine. This is a wonderfully haunting and gripping novel. You will not be disappointed. Victoria Allman author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is haunting and sad. I enjoyed the depth and perspective of the various characters and the description of life and environs of Miami. And the food was a real treat! I feel compelled to read this book again; there is much here to absorb.
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imnoeinstein More than 1 year ago
I found this book very boring. Hard to imagine allowing your 13 year old to run away and live on the streets of Miami.16, maybe, but 13 is a child. Why not call the police, call social services, call child welfare, do something. Did not care for this book at all, would never recommend.
LeisureReader More than 1 year ago
Each member of the family gets a turn to interpret their reactions to daughter's leaving home. That makes for a well rounded perspective of the crisis and it's aftermath and conclusions. Sometimes though the multiple narrators were just frustrating to an ongoing plot line, but I guess that was the beat way to get the entire picture of the problems.
Debbie-V More than 1 year ago
this book was hard to get into, and never got any better. Put it away mid-way. Did not like.
joan siegelwax More than 1 year ago
Realy liked this book. Intense and very heart breaking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well-written story about a Florida family whose teenage daughter runs away from home at the age of 13 and how it affects the family psychologically. I'm still trying to figure out why she ran away...not sure it was a good enough reason. I was alittle disappointed in that I was expecting a story about Arab-American culture since the author is Arab-American herself, but it was just a story about an all-American family with no references to Arab culture at all. Of course ethnic writers should be able to write about more than their ethnic culture.