I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite authors yesterday. Diana Abu-Jaber spoke at a luncheon and talk given in her honor. So, after having deemed her fabulous BIRDS OF PARADISE my favorite book of 2011, we were both able to finally put a face to a name.
BIRDS OF PARADISE by Diana Abu-Jaber is finally out in a trade paperback version. If you haven’t already discovered this talented writer who lives in South Florida, you simply must pick this one up. She is one of the most talented writers of this generation!
Diana Abu-Jaber writes Miami and family like she knows what she’s talking about. That would be because she really does.
The Muir family lives in Coral Gables; an older upscale area of Miami, Florida. Paradise some might say. But, ahh, there is trouble in this paradise. Felice, the teenage daughter of Avis and Brian, left home to live on the beach at the age of 13. Unimaginable to most of us. How could this happen, and why? What could possibly happen to cause this young person to leave her brother and parents? They are left clueless. The hardest part is that Felice has chosen to live only a few miles from their house. So close but so far away.
Avis is a renowned pastry chef who creates perfectly idealistic and heavenly delicious desserts. We are talking “over the top” creations. She gets paid mightily for them. She throws herself deeper and deeper into her pastries and confections, trying to keep her sanity.
Brian becomes even more enmeshed in the real estate boom and spends his whole life working.
Then there is Stanley, Felice’s older brother. Stan was left by the wayside after his sister left. Both parents took basic leave of “being there ” for him. But Stanley has done well and opened a popular organic grocery store in Homestead, a suburb of Miami that got hit tragically a few years back when hurricane Andrew unexpectedly plowed through it.
What we do know is that something profound happened to Felice just before her leaving. Something, that is, at first, a mystery, but eventually comes out. Abu-Jaber does a bang-up job weaving the story among the intelligent and informative chapters, capturing each of the four characters, beautifully. She shows us a side of each person that enables us to understand their point of view.
Abu-Jaber tells us that she actually left home at the age of sixteen. That would certainly aid in her ability to so bring this story to life.
Once again, a city has become a character. Miami is brilliantly illuminated through the eyes of the Muir family. The exotic flora, the steamy atmosphere, the crackling, electric nightlife, and the forbidden excitement of living behind the scenes of Miami Beach. Not to mention the undercurrent of drugs, hoodlums, body artists and models.
The extremely cohesive chapters slowly but surely bring the story together in the most thoughtful of ways. Stanley’s life revolves around his organic way of life. His mom’s life revolves around sugar and all the things Stanley is avoiding. And Brian is involved in selling pieces of paradise and putting up parking lots. It is not difficult to see how this family has come unglued, although the love has not died, it’s just abated.
The story is brought to a crescendo that does not disappoint. I loved this book! I could not wait to get back to reading it. But I also did not want it to end. With scrumptious prose that makes reading this novel a delight, it just might be my favorite of this year. And I don’t say that lightly.