I knew I needed to read THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT by Zeyn Joukhadar the minute I saw the artwork. Yep. A gorgeously rendered, watercolor bird wing. Pair that (and an elusive bird thought not to exist by science) with breathtaking writing, and I was a goner.
A description of the bird in question:
Their wingtips were glossy blue-black, shimmering like the bellies of spiders; others said the white bodies and black markings were a myth, and that the only thing to interrupt their black plumage, dark as the moment after lightning, were their gilded breast feathers that gleamed like coins at last light.
Birds play a central role in this book, with New York City being visited constantly by them (hummingbirds thick as bees, kites, sparrows, owls). The characters all have deep connections to birds; there are two ornithologists; a woman who rescues birds; a sister who engineered mechanical birds; artists who paint birds; sellers who seek bird art. For the avian lovers among us, this was a cornucopia of feathery delight.
The birds serve another purpose: they present a mystery in need of solving, a mystery that unravels next to a trans boy’s struggle to embrace his identity and reveal it openly, despite the feelings of betrayal by his body. The parallel stories may seem ambitious and at times the reader may not be sure just where the story is headed, but the author pulls together so many threads toward the end of the book that connect the two stories, that one can’t help but be impressed.
I confess that it did take me a bit of time to adjust to the second-person structure of both stories. The main character of the present-day story is speaking to/addressing his deceased mother throughout. The main character in the historic portion is writing to her true love (via epistolary technique of a journal).
That said, I enjoyed THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT by Zeyn Joukhadar and look forward to future work!
(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT by Zeyn Joukhadar was published at GoodReads on Febuary 11, 2021. It is reposted here with permission of the reviewer.)