From the author of the acclaimed The Curiosity comes a compelling and moving story of compassion, courage, and redemption.
Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.
At the same time, Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons.
Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness.
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About the Author
Stephen P. Kiernan has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of two previous novels, The Curiosity and The Hummingbird, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A couple of years ago, author and journalist Stephen P. Kiernan made his fiction debut with his novel The Curiosity. That book, about a man reanimated from death, showcased Kiernan's aptitude for a creative character driven story that defied the confines of traditional genres and left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of readers. In his sophomore novel, The Hummingbird, Kiernan trades in the high concept premise of his debut for a more intimate narrative that is remarkably understated, but equally affecting. Deborah Birch is no stranger to death. As a hospice nurse, she helps people and their families to pass over with dignity, compassion, and peace. Shepherding her patients to the other side brings Deborah slices of insight about life, family, and love, all of which she relates to her own life and to those of future clients. But all of her past experiences have done little to prepare her for the challenges that she currently faces. Deborah's husband, Michael, is a war veteran who is struggling to acclimate to his life outside of the military. Three tours as a sniper in the Middle East have left him a shell of his former self and caused a rift between him and his wife. Anger issues caused from PTSD only magnify the fear and uncertainty in the couple's rocky relationship. Try as she might, Deborah can't seem to break through to the man she loves so deeply. The challenges are only intensified when Deborah enters the home of her latest patient Barcalay Reed. The former history professor is facing an incurable illness that will soon end his life. He spends his days alone in his sizable estate on the Pacific Coast, thinking back on his academic career and the disgrace that led to its demise. Ridiculous demands and an abrasive temper have made it impossible for Reed to keep a hospice nurse for more than one day at a time. As the fourth nurse from her company to attend to Reed's needs and with no surviving family to intervene, Deborah is his last hope. Slowly, a mutual trust and understanding begins to form. Reed is a bitter and jaded old man, but underneath that hardened exterior lies a fiercely intelligent man full of knowledge and wisdom about history and life. As Deborah and Reed grow closer, they begin to share about their lives. Deborah tells him of the problems with her husband, and Reed tells her of the last book he was working on. This book, about a Japanese pilot bomber in WWII, was deemed as fabricated plagiarism by Reed's colleagues and became a scandalous end to his distinguished career. As Reed approaches his final days, he has Deborah read from this book and wills her to come to her own opinion about its validity. Kiernan's quietly nuanced writing paints a breathtaking portrait of life, death, and human interaction. The novel alternates between the present day story of of Deborah and Reed with the story of the Japanese WWII pilot seeking redemption from his actions in the war. This alternating narrative device seems to be quite popular in literary fiction these days, but can sometimes make a novel disjointed and difficult to follow. Fortunately, the two stories of this book weave effortlessly with each other as the story of the past becomes a kind of metaphor for the one that is presently unfolding. Kiernan takes what could easily have been a sappy, sentimental tale and elevates it to a deeply moving experience that will stay with you long after the final page.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A hospice nurse is sent on her next case and she is the third called to this home just from her agency, so she knows that she is in for a doozy! Barclay Reed is a retired professor and knows that his days are numbered, but doesn't know how and when the end will come. While this hospice nurse has enough on her plate, she is also dealing with personal tragedy as her husband is suffering PTSD as he has come home from another tour of duty and this one may have been the worst. This book was jam packed, but didn't seem overwhelming. There was a lot going on, but it didn't feel like too much and there isn't anything I would have edited out. I have now read a few books with veterans from our current war and it so very interesting to read how current combat affects their minds and even though technology has improved over the years, the act of killing someone is still traumatic.
I think we all take each day of our life for granted. I believe it's because we firmly believe that there will be a tomorrow and the day after that until we grow old. But the people I think truly appreciate what they have are those that have to face a terminal diagnosis, knowing that tomorrow is never a guarantee for any of us. Stephen P. Kiernan has written an unforgettable novel that showcases three very unique relationships in The Hummingbird. It is written in alternating chapters, one in the life of hospice nurse, Deborah Birch, and the story of the Sword she reads to her dying patient Professor Barclay Reed. Deborah's relationship with the Professor is to help him see that even though time is running out on his life he still has a lot to offer. She promises that even though he has fired every single nurse in three different hospice care facilities, she will not give up on him. As the two work on coming to terms with how they interact with one another in the time that is left, the Professor asks her to read an unpublished book that he had written and at the conclusion of the story, to tell him if she believes it is true or simply a work of fiction. Along the way, the Professor's brilliant metaphors for life, help Deborah deal with her husband, Michael who after returning home from his third tour of duty is not the man she married. His violent outbursts have been a huge strain on their marriage and now they simply exist as roommates in the same home. Not the life she had ever imagined and not one she wanted to open up to the Professor about. The Professor has written numerous volumes on the Pacific Theater and the Sword was the only one that never got published. As they read through the story together, the Professor helps Deborah understand the subtleties behind what Michael has brought home from the war. He uses parts of the story to help her gain insight into the clues he brings up that offer more than what she has been seeing all along. Deborah also finds that through each case she has worked with her patients, they all offer her the one thing that money can never buy and it's a gift she carries with her to each and every patient. She promises that she will do all she can to ensure that their death is peaceful, as painfree as possible and that they leave behind no regrets if she can help it. I received The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation, aside from a free copy of this book, in exchange for my honest review and the opinions contained here are strictly my own. While this is NOT a book for my Christian readers, those who find an interest in hospice, WWII and PTSD, will love where these stories intersect and find such value for life, it kinda of changes how you move forward after reading this. There is some profanity, but taken in the context of the character of Michael, as a returning soldier from the war, it would be what one would expect dealing with the nightmares and issues he has. In my opinion, this one is worth 4 out of 5 stars.