Birds In Fall

 

Brad Kessler's luminous novel opens with a terrifying scene: the last moments of passengers aboard a plane that is about to crash. It is the more devastating for the understated quality of the writing, and the small, brave acts — a woman writes her name on her arm with a lipstick — before the plane crashes into the sea off Nova Scotia.

The innkeeper who witnesses the crash becomes host to the community of grieving relatives that arrive to wait for news from the recovery effort. Grief unites us — grief unites them — and in the forms of their mourning, their rituals, and the ways they encourage each other to go on, we see different cultures' provisions for the deepest losses. There are Taiwanese parents, a Bulgarian husband, Dutch children, an Italian couple, an Iranian exile who calls Persians "the connoisseurs of grief," and the American widow — a bird biologist — whose studies of migration and its terminology become increasingly emblematic. Migration means to abandon one region for another; in the inn, a Scottish woman recites Tibetan prayers to aid in guiding the souls of the dead through their transmigration.

In impeccable prose that is never sensational or sentimental, with occasional flares of irony, Kessler shows us the necessary acts of consolation that accrue in this group. The American woman who lost her husband comes to think of the Iranian man who lost his niece as "a ladder she could climb." About Ana, the bird expert, Kessler writes, "It was often impossible actually to see the moment of flight...only through indirection, through not looking...could she experience the birds' flight." In this novel, Brad Kessler does not spotlight the subject of peace and understanding. Rather, as the poet Mark Doty has said, it is the lens through which we see the world. Not explicit--implicit. This humane stance, so beautifully rendered, is why we chose Birds in Fall as the winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

—Amy Hempel, 2007 finalist judge


2007 Fiction Winner


(Click play to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Brad Kessler
Birds In Fall

Brad Kessler is the author of Birds in Fall (Scribner 2006) and Lick Creek (Scribner 2001), as well as several award-winning children’s books. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, The Kenyon Review and numerous other publications. He has received prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and was recently nominated by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for a Rome Prize.

His first non-fiction work, The Goat Diaries, will be published by Scribner in 2009. He lives in Vermont with the photographer Dona Ann McAdams.

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“To win a literary award is exciting enough.  But to be given one wedded to the sentiment and cause of peace is the greatest honor I think any writer or poet could wish for—especially right now in this country in this time of war.  Nothing would seem less effectual in bringing about peace than sitting alone in a room talking to imaginary characters, which is what a novelist does.  For my novel, then, to be recognized as a call for peace is incredibly humbling.”

—Brad Kessler                        


 
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