Sunday, May 11, 2014

Local Fiction: THE STARLING GOD, Tanya Sousa

Not a mystery! But a local book that I'm glad to mention:

It's been a month or so since I finished reading THE STARLING GOD, by Coventry, Vermont, author (and sometimes publisher) Tanya Sousa. And I've read so many books since that one ... but every time I go outside, something from Sousa's novel comes to the foreground. I can't listen to a songbird, watch hawks and vultures hunt, or even see an empty bird's nest without realizing that my way of responding to all of these has shifted.

And that is an amazing effect for one novel.

Way back in 1972, Richard Adams brought out a similar novel, Watership Down, which became a huge hit. Here's the Wikipedia plot summary of that book from a generation ago:
In the Sandleford [rabbit] warren, Fiver, a young runt rabbit who is a seer, receives a frightening vision of his warren's imminent destruction. When he and his brother Hazel fail to convince their chief rabbit of the need to evacuate, they set out on their own with a small band of rabbits to search for a new home, barely eluding the Owsla, the warren's military caste.

The travelling group of rabbits finds itself following the leadership of Hazel, previously an unimportant member of the warren. They travel through dangerous territory, with Bigwig and Silver, both former Owsla, as the strongest rabbits among them. Eventually they meet a rabbit named Cowslip, who invites them to join his warren. However, when Bigwig is nearly killed in a snare, the rabbits realize the residents of the new warren are simply using them to increase their own odds of survival, and they continue on their journey.
Sousa's tale of starlings, doves, and even seagulls begins with a situation that has some parallels: A nestling is rescued by a kind woman whom most of the local birds revere as a god (she can rearrange plants, provide food, sometimes mend a broken wing, and lives in a way the birds can't comprehend). When she returns the bird to the yard, able to fly but clueless about seeking food or companions, the frightened little one meets ample assistance from a generous pair of doves -- who decide that this fledgeling is a "Chosen One" of the gods. Uplifted by such news, the new resident chooses the name SL'an for himself, a name that proclaims he will be both a Teller (i.e., news teller but also perhaps prophet) and a Seeker of knowledge.

But SL'an is a starling, not a dove, and when he attempts to join his own kind, the early persuasions of the doves (and his courteous nature) turn out to make him a poor fit for the local flock. Danger comes in several forms, and soon the bird is on his own quest to discover whether the "Gods" are truly all-knowing and wise, and whether there's a mission for his life.

Sousa's plotting and dialogue reveal a gifted storyteller who's embraced her own message of Seeking and Telling. The path of the Starling God -- if that's what he is! -- doesn't require quite as much terror as the Watership Down rabbits endure, but the sense of flock and community is strong and vibrant. The book comes through on all of its promises, and is a welcome addition to the parables of our time.

Available online from the usual marketers, and also directly from the publisher:


Andrew Reid said...

"The Starling God" was given to me as a gift; someone correctly believed that I would connect with Tanya Sousa's story. I found the story to be very entertaining, and filled with introspection. As I read, I found myself examining my own relationships with the biosphere which we share with all living creatures and fauna. I believe we should all be on a journey similar to SL'an's. This book helped me along the path of my journey. To Tanya Sousa, I would like to say, "Thank you!"

A. Gary Reid

Tanya Sousa said...

I'm touched by your remarks, Andrew. There is no greater gift to an author than to hear her work was taken exactly as it was intended. YOU are welcome, and I thank you in kind.

Tanya Sousa said...

Andrew Gary Reid, I'd also like to ask if you'd be willing to share that comment on the book's review section on Amazon. No worries if you'd rather not - I ask because reviews do help people discover and sometimes choose to read books. Again, many thanks no matter what!