NINE BIRDS SINGING
BY EDYTHE ANSTEY HANEN
BY EDYTHE ANSTEY HANEN
New Arcadia Publishing (5 December, 2017)
Paperback; 276 Pages
Maddie is a writer of local history but wants to use her words to unlock the hidden truths that lay just below the surface of her life. But it’s magnetic words on a refrigerator door – Have dreams. Must travel – that push Maddie into the journey she must take: the search for what she has yearned for all her life: independence and freedom from the abusive fanaticism of her parents’ religious beliefs. From Vancouver in the sixties to present day Mexico and a small island on the Canadian west coast, Nine Birds Singing is a love affair with words. It weaves through past glories and youthful hubris in a search for understanding and acceptance. Profound friendship, skewed love and loss all play a role in Maddie’s search for redemption
“Where will you spend eternity?”
“The preacher begins his sermon with subdued entreaties for the lost sheep to return to the fold. There is still time, he tells them. But it’s his table-pounding diatribes on hell’s fury that send rivers of fear coursing through Maddie’s veins. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Even the water trembles in the glass when he slams his fist against the dais...Maddie sits in heart-stopping silence, her cheeks aflame with guilt. She is more afraid of the preacher than she is of God.”
Maddie, as a child is terrified of the coming Rapture, she knows that due to her sinful ways she will be left behind to suffer for all eternity. Her father’s ferocious religious preaching compounds these fears. She, too, knows that she is different from other children at school, and that her family home life is very strange. She feels isolated and uncomfortable around others feeling that she does not fit in.
“There’s no use pretending this isn’t about Joey too. The leaky boat that’s kept their life together afloat has been sinking for a long time and Maddie sees now that she’s been the only one rowing anyway. She can’t stay here and wait for the other oar to drop but she doesn’t want to chase Joey down like prey either.”
When, in later years her long-term partner walks out on her, Maddie takes off to visit her friend of many years in Mexico. Thus begins Maddie’s painful, but enlightening journey for truth and of self-discovery.
Returning to heartfelt memories of her childhood, Maddie looks back at her father’s religious doctrine, her grandfather’s abuse, and her mother’s passivity and uncaring demeanour, all of which have left her feeling a powerlessness and unquestioning acceptance of how badly others have treated her over the years.
“Maddie looks out into the chilly early morning light. She imagines what it would be like to be in Mexico now. Salmon pink and scarlet bougainvillea blossoms, purple jacaranda blooms that drift from the trees like confetti in the time of the winds, the white-faced ibis arcing across the sky at sunset, winging its way toward the lake.”
Set predominantly in present day Mexico, the reader is transported to a Vancouver of the 1960’s, and back again to a small island off the Pacific west coast. Nine Birds Singing takes us on a poignant and highly perceptive journey of exploration and of self-discovery of a woman in her later years.
So compelling with more than one ‘Me Too’ moment along the way, I felt a real connection to this wonderfully inspiring woman. As a result of coming to terms with a difficult past she acquires a new found freedom from the chains of abusive relationships. Nine Birds Singing is sure to have a recognition and poignancy with readers at a particular stage in their lives, just as I did.
One message or interpretation I took from the book was that as a child the responsibility of others’ abuse or neglectfulness is not yours, and that it’s never too late to take control of your life, to choose your own path and not accept whatever fate throws at you. That, even with the passing of time, it is still possible to throw off the shackles which have bound you for far too long.
An uplifting literary novel of a woman’s coming of age in her older years, Nine Birds Singing is a highly recommend read.
A complementary digital copy of Nine Birds Singing was provided in exchange for an unbiased review and to take part in this TLC Book Tours.
About the Author
Edythe Anstey Hanen has published prize-winning short stories and poetry in literary magazines including Room Magazine and anthologies across Canada, in addition to articles in the Globe & Mail, National Post and the Hamilton Bay Observer and is a regular contributor to Mexconnect, an online travel magazine. She lives on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada, where for many years she was the editor of the Bowen Island Undercurrent.