Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “The Vanished Birds” in Bari, Italy

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The Book: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

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5/5 stars

*No spoilers*

I love following up a really bad read with an incredible one. I was shocked to find out that The Vanished Birds was Simon Jimenez’s debut book. It reminded me a lot of Anthony Doerr’s writing—and he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

I actually picked up this book on Penguin Random House’s recommendation. They do this cool thing every weekday where they provide personalized book suggestions. I asked for “something with great world-building and imagery” and was told The Vanished Birds would fit the bill.

It was spot-on. I’m not usually one for science fiction, but I’ve been trying to expand my reading habits. Jimenez did indeed execute on the world-building and definitely made me want to pick up some more SF novels.

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The plot spans a millennium and bounces between different stories seamlessly, even though they take place in various galaxies and time periods. (Like I said, it reminded me of Doerr’s style.)

The book is categorized as a space opera and it’s one filled with adventure told in the most beautiful writing. Again, I can’t believe this is his first novel. I have endless praise for this story. Oftentimes with narratives that are so complex, it can be hard to deliver a truly satisfying ending. But I can’t really imagine Jimenez writing a more perfect one.

While I set out looking for a book with breathtaking imagery and a concrete sense of place, I was also met with a story that explored the many different types of relationships and bonds and how they impact us throughout life. We lose characters we had grown to love and we see others grow and change in disappointing, yet realistic ways.

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Everything came full circle and I felt that there were little to no details or plot points that had been overlooked or forgotten. Jimenez’s prose is beautiful and I can’t wait to see what is next for him.

Speaking of which, his next novel, The Spear Cuts Through Water, is set to publish on August 30 this year. I’ll be sure to pick that one up when it releases.

Favorite Quotes

  • She shouted, and she wept in Kaeda’s arms, and filled that house with such mourning there was no room for her  son’s own grief, which he let harden like sediment on the bottom of his heart as he attended to his mother’s tears. 
  • “The people who leave always forget that the world doesn’t end once they’re gone,” she said. “They forget  about the decay.”
  • “The reason I’m telling you this is so you don’t expect me to be waiting for you on the other side of your project,  on the off chance that you were still expecting me to. That wouldn’t be fair to either of us. There was a time in  my life where I would’ve waited for you, but now, seeing how everything is falling apart, I no longer think of  time as a luxury to be spent. I needed someone, so I found someone.”
  • It wasn’t music, not as he once understood the term; it was more the music’s marrow, the stuff that would pour  from a song’s cracked bone; a rhythmic current; a melody sung not with the mouth but the body. 
  • Old friends that slip away when I reach for them. The shape of them like paper cutouts. A play of one act, before  the curtain is drawn, & they are gone again. I wonder why my brain bothers to retain these abstractions. What  use is it to me, to hold on to these half-formed memories? Where am I supposed to put them? What pocket? 

The Place: The Italian coast in April

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The best trips are often the most unplanned. With three days free, we looked up the cheapest flights from Budapest and found a great deal to Bari. I had only ever explored northern Italy before—Bari is southwestern.

We started in Bari on Monday and took the train down the coast on Tuesday—stopping in Polignano a Mare and Monopoli—before ending in Lecce. Polignano a Mare was a picturesque coastal town, with cascading cliffs overlooking the turquoise water.

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Monopoli was also located on the coast and boasted its own gorgeous beaches and scenery as well. It also featured poetry all over the city, on the walls and on the steps.

Lecce is referred to as the “Florence of the South” due to its baroque architecture. There were a number of stunning churches and huge squares. Traveling with just a backpack makes everything easy, especially now that the weather is warmer. The Italian sunshine made for a nice, needed break. Of course, we had to try gelato in each town.

I hope to make it to the Amalfi coast before ending my journey in Europe, but I have no complaints about my time spent in the boot of Italy.

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Michelle Newblom
About the Author

Michelle is fascinated by the power of the written word, the weight language holds and how influential writing can be. She has experience working in all different realms of publishing—including newspapers, magazines, blogs and research journals.

Feel free to contact her at mnewblom@gmail.com

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