The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis
In the novel The Book of Dead Birds, author Gayle Brandeis explores the complex relationship between main character Ava Lo Sing and her Korean mother who survived by prostitution in Korea. Ava struggles to allow herself to love and be loved while living in San Diego. Her mother thinks birds always die when Ava is around. The old woman strangely keeps this history in a scrap book she calls “The Book of Dead Birds.”
When Ava suddenly joins the team working to save thousands of brown pelicans dying of avian botulism at the Salton Sea, she realizes how cut off she has been from human love. Slowly she comes back alive to feeling human emotions.
This novel captures life at the Salton Sea, the mysterious beauty and terrible environmental challenges being inflicted on the birds, fish and mammals. The human struggle to save these giant birds that never make it easy, touches the spirit of the people there and the reader.
I found this novel powerful and engaging, both for the human story of Ava Lo Sing, and for the story of life at this largest yet dying California lake.
The Book of Dead Birds won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction. The intent of the prize is “to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice, and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.”