In Birds of Paradise, Lise Benincà delivers a hauntingly romantic novel about love, loss, and recovery. Her meticulously restrained and lyrical style perfectly embodies the stunned hopelessness of grief while not succumbing to the temptations of pathos and melodrama. Benincà, like the great post-war French novelists, describes the utter emptiness within ourselves and in the world around us.
Samuel is away on a business trip in Brazil. His live-in girlfriend, the book's narrator, waits for the familiar sound of his suitcase on the stairs. But it never comes. Instead, she gets a phone call from a stranger in Brazil. Samuel has died in a car accident. His sudden, distant death leaves the narrator frozen, unsure how to integrate this news into her immediate reality. His book is open on the nightstand, his toothbrush is on the sink, and any minute she still expects to hear his footsteps on the stairs.
A translator for medical journals, the narrator attempts to express her grief in biological terms. Descriptions of neurons, atoms, and synapses intermix with the movements of daily life as she continues to live without him, occasionally lapsing into faintly coherent lists that resemble the mumblings of inconsolable weeping.
Benincà masterfully translates raw emotion onto the page. This short but powerful novel will resonate with anyone who has suffered or feared the loss of a loved one.