Interview with Diana Abu-Jaber on "Birds of Paradise"

Diana Abu-Jaber sat down with Helen Raptis to talk about her new novel, Birds of Paradise. At its core, it's the story of a runaway daughter, Felice, and the effect of her absence on her mother, father, and brother. It illuminates the silent crosscurrents of guilt, anger, blame, and grief that can plague a family, and it will resonate with all those who have sought adolescent independence and then yearned to reconnect with their families once they are grown up. Abu-Jaber writes with authority on the hot-button subject of teenage runaways and the impact on the people they leave behind, as she herself left home at fifteen—not to spend her time modeling tattoos, clubbing, and scrounging for food on Miami Beach like Felice, but to gain independence from her strict Jordanian father. This personal connection to the novel will make Abu-Jaber a natural choice for off-the-book-page features.

The subject of teen runaways isn’t the only social issue explored in authentic and satisfying ways in Birds of Paradise. Also explored are adolescent cruelty, parental self-absorption, and hidden histories of political violence and tragedy. The food industry spectrum is a major theme: Felice’s mother is an elite pastry chef consumed with beauty, her brother is the earnest owner of a trendy food co-op; their separate agendas speak to today’s foodie fetishism and the tricky politics of sugar and food production. Felice’s father’s position as a corporate real estate attorney navigating Miami’s boom-and-bust housing market raises questions about financial risk and the effects of gentrification. Finally, the climax of the book during and after Hurricane Katrina reminds us of the potential for generosity and community even among people previously isolated from one another.

The story of a fractured family—and the way in which its members find their way back to one another—has tremendous emotional pull. Featuring Abu-Jaber’s signature prose, nuanced characters, startlingly vivid imagery, and all the other elements that fans have loved from her previous work, Birds of Paradise adds crackling dialogue and a rich, suspenseful plot. This new novel should thrill Abu-Jaber’s existing fans and win her many, many more.

For more information, visit Diana's website.

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