Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber, narrated by Tamara Marston
Published in audio by Highbridge Audio, published in print by WW Norton & co
Avis and Brian Muir have what seems like it should be a happy life. They live in a big house in a wealthy community in Miami. Avis has a job that she loves. Brian has a job he at least likes, and one that more than pays the bills. They have two lovely and intelligent children. When their daughter Felice runs away at thirteen, though, the entire family falls apart. Now, five years later, they have fallen even farther, even as they continue to hope that they may someday because a “real” family again, whatever that might mean.
Thoughts on the story:
Abu-Jaber is extremely skilled at getting inside her characters heads, going so far as showing the reader the neurosis of which the characters themselves may not even be aware. In Birds of Paradise, she manages the often difficult task of fully fleshing out all four members of the family, making each of them seem real, bringing to life their hopes and their foibles. Felice’s storyline is particularly interesting. Although the secret that drove her to running away is relatively easy to guess, it is believable, even logical by the standards of her young teenage self.
Thoughts on the audio production:
This is where Birds of Paradise fell apart for me. Marston seemed more like she was reading Abu-Jaber’s text than like she was narrating or performing it. She had a great command of accents – a necessity for the multicultural world in which the Muirs live – but there was little to no passion in her voice, which is somewhat of a problem in a book with such deep emotions from its characters. Also, she had an incorrect and obnoxious pronunciation of the state Oregon that just pulled me right out of the book and annoyed me every time she said it. Marston’s narration really detracted from the potential power of Abu-Jaber’s story.
Be prepared to become emotionally involved in the lives of the Muirs if you pick up Birds of Paradise, but for full effect choose print.
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