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 masters poetic nuances of modern life in South Florida -- a place where mothers know that 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. Abu-Jaber is a frequent NPR contributor, a finalist of PEN/Hemingway award, and winner of American Book awards.
Sat., Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m., 2011