Birds of Paradise, Diana Abu-Jaber, and writing what you love

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Skyscape.  Choreography.  Color.  Birds.  I have carried these obsessions forward since I first began to write so many years ago.  A story begins, and I want to go there.  Want to write what I love most to write, though (of course) no story can consist of just these things.  They are but atmosphere.

I have been thinking about this lately because I have been reading Diana Abu-Jaber's new novel Birds of Paradise—an ambitious book featuring multiple points of view, the business of real estate, the artistry of exotic pastries, and a run-away teen.  Much is broken and strained in this family and Abu-Jaber takes her readers into complex emotional territory as the story unfolds. 

But what seduces me most throughout this novel is the command that Abu-Jaber demonstrates for Miami.  Her knowledge of this landscape is unimpeachable, her ability to get us into the physical stuff of it all her great achievement in Birds of Paradise.  I could almost hear her exhale when the landscape came into view—the gardens, the streetscapes.  I could feel her joy in making these scenes. 

I share a single example:

The scent of jasmine drifts into the windows.  Songbird season is over.  No more gardenias: hurricane season.  The trees have grown dense as rooftops; the plumeria hold their flower-tipped branches up like brides with golden corsages.  Avis sits hunched forward, clinging to her tin: she can feel the metal chill through her blouse, all the way to the pit of her stomach. She'd forgotten to eat again. 


Sarah Laurence said...

I like that image of trees as rooftops. Thanks for an intro to this author. Nice photo too.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. What a beautiful example. Thank you for sharing this. And so the to read list grows!

And yes on writing what you love, it makes the words shine.

Beth F said...

I have so wanted to read this book. I own it and I haven't even opened the cover. Hoping to find some reading time before the end of the year.

Serena said...

I have always loved this word, plumeria. I love the image of the trees as rooftops as well. This sounds like a book I should be reading.

Lilian Nattel said...

Thank you for the excerpt--what an intimate sense of place.

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