A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Have you ever walked the streets of a major city for the first time and had the experience of losing your bearings, wandering a couple of streets from the well-marked tourist trail and suddenly finding yourself in unfamiliar surroundings? There’s a sense of dislocation at moments like these, a feeling that the world has become unmoored. You know where you are, but simultaneously, you don’t.
You might experience a similar sensation in reading Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper, which takes you by the hand and leads you from the well-marked trail and into a place you almost but not quite recognize. A family in a district of a city which is almost but not quite Los Angeles, is fighting a losing battle to live a normal life against a background of increasing violence. Rudy the father, an academic, finds himself incarcerated and beaten up for crimes which no one ever fully explains. His daughter, Nora, falls in love with the same man who locks up her Dad. Tre, the son of the family, works as a paid assassin until the day he realizes that the man he has been hired to kill is his own father. In the Clearwater district, gangs of children run the streets unsupervised and journalists hang lynched from underpasses. This is an unfamiliar place – nowhere quite like Clearwater actually exists – but at the same time this is place we can all recognize, indirectly, from what we have read in the papers or heard on the news.
But there’s beauty in amongst the brutality: in the cooing of the doves Nora’s murderous fiancé keeps, and the love between Tre and his girlfriend, the magnificent la Negra who emasculates one of the guerillas who comes to abduct her man and teaches the street children how to read. This is the kind of place where, as you wander around haplessly in your sunhat and tourist sandals, a local will notice your distress, turn your map the right way around and point you in the direction of the city centre. In this not quite version of reality, Rudy longs to escape the violence by becoming an illegal immigrant out of the US, a droll twist which led me to a vision of the future where Trump has to build a wall to keep his citizens in.
Sometimes you need to distort reality to understand it better. Silence the Birds, Silence the Keeper uses the distortion to demonstrate the consequences of corruption and dispossession. It’s a beautiful, haunting tale and one which I will not quickly forget.
Mixer Publishing 2015 196pp. ISBN 9780692471906