If you were charmed by the quirky ensemble cast and the blend of humour and heart in Amy Jones’s We’re All in This Together, you won’t want to miss Nina Berkhout’s Why Birds Sing.
Why Birds Sing is also set into motion, in part, by a YouTube incident: but instead of a literal trip over the falls, our opera singer protagonist, Dawn, has a fall from grace in the form of a humiliating onstage flameout. She can’t even brood alone at home with the sudden arrival of her estranged brother-in-law, Tariq, and his temperamental parrot, Tulip, who are staying throughout Tariq’s cancer treatment. When Dawn is asked to teach arias to a ragtag group of whistlers, The Warblers, she soon discovers they have a few things to teach her too, and when Dawn’s marriage starts to look as troubled as her career, she starts questioning her foundations, including her life on the stage and the true nature of love.
Both books are essentially stories of crisis and reconnection, but instead of a splintered North Bay brood, Why Birds Sing brings a chosen family that transcends even species boundaries. Because once you’ve met Tulip, you’ll want to adopt her too. (She may not reciprocate the feeling.)
These reads are both warm and breezy, but not insubstantial, alternatively funny and poignant, with a window into topics less travelled, in this case opera and whistling rather than sharks and geology.
But don’t take it from me: Amy Jones herself loved Why Birds Sing, saying, “A bratty parrot, a group of whistlers, an opera singer who doesn’t sing — it’s impossible not to be charmed by the characters who inhabit Nina Berkhout’s Why Birds Sing. But this novel offers so much more than just a loveable, quirky cast of misfits, and Berkhout writes with an uncommon compassion and an uncanny understanding of what it means to be human. Why Birds Sing is an ode to the families we choose, and the love that chooses us (whether we want it to or not.) This is a beautiful novel full of humour, warmth, sorrow, and above all, music.”
Thanks so much to Jen Knoch at ECW Press for sharing the connections between these two books. Buy your own copy of Why Birds Sing on All Lit Up.
And for more literary comparisons, click here.