A while back, I mentioned that I discovered a call for proposals for a panel about assuming ethnic identity in autobiographical fiction; The Book of Dead Birds was featured prominently in the abstract. I have since had the pleasure of getting in touch with the woman who proposed the panel, Cathy Waegner, an English professor at the Universitat Siegen in Germany. She used The Book of Dead Birds in her "African American Asian Cross Cultural Encounters" seminar, and recently shared some of her students' essays with me. It was so cool, and often very moving, to see how German students (writing in English) responded to the book. They interpreted the dream sequences of the book in ways that I had not even considered. They made beautiful thematic connections that never would have occurred to me. I have read reviews of the novel before, of course, but never academic analyses, and it was very eye opening. I'll share a few snippets that I found especially delightful:
--"Normally you should not judge a book by its cover. But the cover of "The Book of Dead Birds (and the title itslef--what should be so interesting about dead birds?!) appeared somehow strange at first sight and therefore invited me to think a bit about the book.
Looking at the cover, one can see a picture of a sea or river. The water has a pleasant color; some parts are lightened up by the sun. Nevertheless the photo creates a depressing and somehow cold atmosphere. No people or animals can be seen. The trees in the background do not have leaves; the plants in the water appear dark. The whole landscape seems to be lifeless.
The photo is a a mixture of light and dark with the darkness and tristesse dominating. Having read the first pages of the novel, I think that the photo reflects the lives of Ava and her mother. This light and dark relationship becomes obvious right from the beginning..."
(The student goes on to explore this dark/light dichotomy throughout the novel--I love it.)
--This sentence, from a different paper, tickled me a lot: "It seems quite unusual that a little author presenting a story makes it at the same time somehow interesting and the curiosity of the reader is awakened!"
--I found the conclusion of this paper very touching...(it has a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book, you might want to avoid it):
"The relationship to Darryl might not solve the non-communicative situation between Ava and her mother, but at least he could be the reason for Ava not feeling Other anymore, but maybe feeling herself, feeling unique and feeling loved in the end."