Birds In Fall
Brad Kessler's luminous novel opens with a terrifying scene: the last moments of passengers
aboard a plane that is about to crash. It is the more devastating for the understated quality
of the writing, and the small, brave acts — a woman writes her name on her arm with a lipstick —
before the plane crashes into the sea off Nova Scotia.
The innkeeper who witnesses the crash becomes host to the community of grieving relatives that
arrive to wait for news from the recovery effort. Grief unites us — grief unites them — and
in the forms of their mourning, their rituals, and the ways they encourage each other to go on,
we see different cultures' provisions for the deepest losses. There are Taiwanese parents,
a Bulgarian husband, Dutch children, an Italian couple, an Iranian exile who calls Persians
"the connoisseurs of grief," and the American widow — a bird biologist — whose studies of
migration and its terminology become increasingly emblematic. Migration means to abandon one
region for another; in the inn, a Scottish woman recites Tibetan prayers to aid in guiding
the souls of the dead through their transmigration.
In impeccable prose that is never sensational or sentimental, with occasional flares of irony,
Kessler shows us the necessary acts of consolation that accrue in this group. The American
woman who lost her husband comes to think of the Iranian man who lost his niece as "a ladder
she could climb." About Ana, the bird expert, Kessler writes, "It was often impossible actually
to see the moment of flight...only through indirection, through not looking...could she experience
the birds' flight." In this novel, Brad Kessler does not spotlight the subject of peace and
understanding. Rather, as the poet Mark Doty has said, it is the lens through which we see the
world. Not explicit--implicit. This humane stance, so beautifully rendered, is why we chose
Birds in Fall as the winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
—Amy Hempel, 2007 finalist judge