On the second page of Birds of Paradise, Diana Abu-Jaber evokes local carpet salesman Don Bailey as that "thirty-foot naked man reclining, selling God-knows-what." The novel, which is steeped in the visual cues of Miami life, flips back and forth between a wayward daughter's street life on the pink sidewalks of Miami Beach and the tense domestic terrain of her parents' Coral Gables home. Abu-Jaber, who splits her time between Miami and Portland, Oregon, masters poetic nuances of modern life in South Florida. You know, a place where I was up all night watching manatees in the canal is code for I was up all night with this guy doing MDMA.
As the family's relationships become increasingly fractured, the novel peaks with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. And only in its aftermath does the family -- and the community at large -- pull together again. Sometimes it takes the loss of a few banyan trees to reinstate the idea of paradise. Hear from Abu-Jaber -- frequent NPR contributor and winner of PEN/Hemingway and American Book awards -- when she reads at Bookstore in the Grove this Friday.
Fri., Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m., 2011