Birds of Paradise

As Hurricane Katrina approaches Miami, the storm that regularly revisits Avis and Brian Muir's marriage is brewing again. Avis wants to meet with their 17-year-old daughter, Felice, who ran away five years before, remaining hopeful of a reunion, while Brian resists opening old wounds. In this richly layered novel, told in alternating chapters by Avis, Brian, their son, Stanley, and Felice, Diana Abu-Jaber captures the tropical heat, sensuality and diversity of Miami. As in her three earlier novels and memoir, The Language of Baklava, she uses food to define characters: Avis is a renowned pastry chef, Stanley owns a health-food grocery, and their enigmatic Haitian neighbor tends a garden of mysterious plants. While the family keeps busy and has moved beyond the initial despair of Felice's abandonment (Brian struggles with his role in the gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods), she has an emotional hold on each of them. Readers will feel an affection and optimism about the family, especially Felice--whatever drove her to run, we want to trust that her intelligence and savvy will lead her safely home.

In Birds of Paradise Abu-Jaber skillfully matches setting with story to create an atmospheric whole. The anxiety and threat of destruction are palpable in the city and in the family; readers will be eager to step into the story, hoping for a satisfying conclusion for the characters they've come to know. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

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