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Birds of Paradise

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,558 ratings  ·  295 reviews

A multilayered, beautifully textured novel about family and self, self-indulgence and generosity, against the vivid backdrop of contemporary Miami.

In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos,

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,558 ratings  ·  295 reviews

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Jan 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: I honestly have no idea
This book should be renamed: Morons Who Make Terrible Decisions.

A cookie, Avis told her children, is a soul.

Oh, please! *rolls eyes* Spare me this kind of pseudo-philosophical garbage. The above is the opening sentence of the novel. As soon as I read it I heaved a big sigh. I could tell what kind of book this was going to be.

We've got a family of four: Avis, Brian and their two children Stanley and Felice. Stanley is mainly ignored throughout the novel, getting only one P.O.V. chapter near th
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
Diana Abu-Jaber's writing hits all of the marks for high praise in this book about a family coping with the loss of their teenage daughter, a junior high school runaway reaching her 18th birthday and living on the streets by choice instead of opting to stay comfortable in her Floridian upper middle class life.

There are lush foodie descriptions, of the cakes and pastries baked by the girl's wealthy mother and equally, of the organic foods sold and prepared by the proletarian (also by choice) bro
Oct 03, 2011 rated it liked it
I was left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and heaviness, despite the author's attempt at leaving this book on an uplifting note.

I personally read as a form of escapism. My book club elected to read this book, though, so I dug in eagerly, hoping to discover a gem I would learn to love. Although I connected with the characters individually and in their interactions with one another, I was left feeling as though all of them were being sheltered, shrouded, and treated as incomplete entitie
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was always going to suffer by comparison since I loved the previous book I read so much, but it was pretty boring. Hard to believe that a book that contains a hurricane, murder and suicide can be boring, but it is. Even the author seemed bored by it, as she abruptly stopped writing. It ended with pretty much no resolution for any of the characters. At one point while I was reading, my cat leaned over and chomped one of the pages. That was the most excitement I got out of it. I guess it ...more
Sarah Cypher
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most absorbing novels I've read all year; as in, it made a flight pass quickly, and then later, at home, drew me back to my big comfy office chair for another chapter when I really should have been working.

The story is straightforward. In the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina's landfall in Miami, Avis, an artisan baker, is forced to confront her role in her daughter's disappearance four years ago. The novels POVs rotate between Avis, her attorney husband, and her daughter,
Dec 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 really. The way Diana Abu-Jaber writes about food is amazing. The pastry descriptions alone make this book worth reading. Also her characters are complex, and not always likeable, and yet I'm relieved when the bad things they're running toward don't hit them. The pace here is slow, but that's all the better to appreciate her writing.

The first half of the book feels like a mashup of two movies: "Ordinary People" (devastated parents) and "Mostly Martha" (amazing chef). The second half of the
Amanda Ishtayeh
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
It pains me to write this review because Diana Abu-Jabers books have brought me such joy and entertainment in the past. I just did not like this book at all. I honestly think the biggest problem was the editing. It droned on and on about the dads career and business deals that were neither interesting or sexy. There was some very good writing and memorable lines that I even shared with my nonreading husband. "But I did it - I left. To make her happy. You see how that works? You keep leaving, lik ...more
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Amy by: LibraryThing
The story Diana Abu-Jaber tells in Birds of Paradise is as multi-leveled as a buttery croissant or honey-drenched baklava. It is the story of one upper middle class family in Miami, fractured when the 13 year old daughter runs away from home and becomes a street kid. The story picks up 5 years after she leaves, as both her 18th birthday and Hurricane Katrina approach the vulnerable coastline and emotionally vulnerable family, each wrapped up in their own distinct world.

The story shifts point of
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Replete with beautiful settings and lush desserts, the world in which the Muir family dwells seems wonderfully lovely and filled with all that is good. In fact, they might seem to have it all. But then as we soon learn, life is definitely not perfect for this family. Avis, the mother and baker extraordinaire, manages her home business with all the gusto one might expect from a perfectionist; and the father, Brian, a successful real estate attorney, sustains the family like many a workaholic: fro ...more
Emily Crow
Sometimes I want to tell a book, "It's not you, it's me." Take Birds of Paradise, for example. Objectively speaking, I would have to say it's a good book. It's well-written, with a meticulously detailed setting and interesting concepts and situations. It's quite readable, and the author tackles some social issues and ethical questions along the way. But I never warmed up to it.

The novel takes place in sprawling, muggy Miami, and hovers around the lives of members of a quietly unhappy family: mot
Kathleen Hagen
Birds of Paradise, by Diana Abu-Jaber, Narrated by Tamara Marston, Produced by Highbridge Audio, downloaded from

This story involves the four members of a family, each chapter is viewed from a different family member’s perspective. Avis Muir is a brilliant pastry chef, Brian Muir a corporate real estate attorney. Their son, Stanley, is the proprietor of a trendy food market. Their
beautiful daughter, Felice, is missing. A runaway at 13, Felice has spent five years modeling tattoos, sk
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book by Diana Abu-Jaber that I've read, but it won't be the last. After reading "Birds of Paradise", I learned that its author won a PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction for "Crescent" and an Oregon Book Award for "Arabian Jazz".

"Birds of Paradise" is absolutely heart-rending, literary, and downright lyrical in its portrayal of Felice, her family, the ethnic communities of Miami, FL, the social behavior of emotionally immature teenage girls, the fragility of relationship w
Tracy Towley
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Birds of Paradise had me hooked from the start, and took me on a meandering, tense journey that I won't soon forget.

The book tells the story of a family's heartbreak over the seemingly causeless runaway of their 14 year old daughter. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and gives us insight into how each family member deals with that heartbreak individually, from the mother, father, brother – and the runaway herself.

Through much of the book, I was left wondering what ex
Ryan Mishap
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novel
There can be no argument with the language, the writing (not only well-crafted but it wraps you in the novel's rhythms, [dare I say] the torpor of Florida heat?). I have no quibble with the set-up and the unfolding character portraits of a family in disarray, unable to talk to each other. I admire the easy way the politics of food and development are worked in.

My two biggest problems--the reasons I couldn't fully embrace this novel--are:

1) Solange, the Haitian neighbor who knows herbs and, thoug
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This beautifully layered tale delves into issues of modern family, parenthood, marriage, childhood, lost innocence, redemption. The story of a family living in Miami dealing with the aftermath that follows in the wake of the disappearance of 13-year-old Felice, the extraordinarily beautiful daughter of Avis and Brian, and the sister of Stanley. The story opens six years after Felice's disappearance, on the eve of her 18th birthday, as a hurricane approaches Miami. Through flashbacks and sidestep ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: surprising-likes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
A lovely story of a family gently, quietly suffering with a loss, each in their own way. Abu-Jaber's descriptions of food and the culture of Miami make the environment the main characters exist in a critical part of the story. Not knowing much of Miami, I was drawn into the layers of social, economic and environmental chaos that (at some points quite literally) swirled around the family.
Martha Anne Toll
Birds of Paradise

Diana Abu-Jaber
W.W. Norton
362 pp.
Reviewed by Martha Toll

Diana Abu-Jaber’s latest novel pivots around a missing teenager whose long absence is a continuing grief for her family. After multiple attempts at running away, Felice Muir finally succeeds when she is thirteen. The novel opens five years later. Although Felice’s parents know she lives near them in Miami, they have had only the barest contact with her over this extended period. In Bi
Ron Charles
Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Diana Abu-Jaber’s delicious new novel weighs less than two pounds, but you may gain more than that by reading it. If you know her cream-filled work — especially “Crescent ” and “The Language of Baklava” — you’re already salivating. This Jorda­­nian American author writes about food so enticingly that her books should be published on sheets of phyllo dough. “Birds of Paradise” contains her most mouthwatering writing ever, but it’s no light after-dinner treat. This is a full-course meal, a rich, c ...more
Lisa Lewis
I really enjoyed this book about family relationships and how the characters dealt with bad things. The sense of place was great - made Miami feel real (and probably much better than it is in real life). I did think that the big mysterious tragedy that caused the daughter to run away from home to punish herself was something of a anticlimax - as was the tragedy that caused her to come back to family. But I forgive Abu-Jaber for being less than horrific in those situations, because all of the res ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had a hard time getting through this novel. Most of the characters were unlikeable and I didn’t find the story compelling – it was easy to put down and not pick back up. I did enjoy the descriptions of Miami and of Avis’s baked goods.
Carly Ford
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A girl runs away from her family when she is thirteen as a self-inflicted punishment. Her family is devastated.

I liked this book. I think the family was idiotic (if your child is running away you take them to a specialist, you take them to a mental hospital, god, something!) but I loved the descriptions of Miami, of the different cultures, even of the mother's baking. I thought the over-descriptions of the the dad's job was so purposeful and gave the reader a good sense of who he was. The broth
Karen Germain
Mar 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Diana Abu-Jaber's novel Birds of Paradise is a gut-wrenching family drama set against the backdrop of the tropical suburbs that surround Miami.

The Muir family is living a seemingly picture-perfect middle-class life. They have a lovely home, great jobs and beautiful children. Look closer and they're a mess.. Each member of the family lives in isolation. They hold in their pain and they fear expressing both their problems and their desires.

The parents, Avis and Brian have long stopped communicati
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Five years after their 13 year-old daughter Felice ran away, Brian and Avis Muir are still struggling to cope with their loss and feelings of failure. Avis is a gourmet pastry chef who immerses herself in her work to deal with her grief, using pastries as comfort and communication. (There are so many lush descriptions of pastries in this book – I was craving baked goods almost the whole time I listened to it!) Brian is a real estate lawyer and he and Avis’s oldest child, Stanley, owns a natural ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am consistently amazed by how versatile Diana Abu Jaber is. I was drawn in by the book Crescent and then devoured The Language of Baklava and Arabian Jazz, all of which centered on Arab-American blended families and the challenges and discriminations they face. These were delicacies to be sure, sweet, sad fulfilling, but then came Origin and blew me out of the water. Origin was the story of an orphan searching for a past she barely remembered. The barely remembered past defined her to herself ...more
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I was privileged to receive this audio book from Library Thing and found the book to be enjoyable. For some reason the voice of the narrator was difficult for me to connect with but the story line held my attention and I was hopeful for the positive reunion and redemption of the characters from the beginning.

The setting is Florida and the book is told in chapters with a different family member the center of each chapter. Felice is the thirteen year old runaway who is the main character in the s
Michelle Cristiani
Feb 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I hover between 3-4 stars, but I'm rounding down right now just because of some of the story's transparency. The story unfolds well, is way stronger at the end than the beginning. At first I had to push through to read, and then I wound up staying up very late to finish. It gathers speed as it flows.

The premise: mysterious Felice runs away from home at 13 and spends, at the time of the telling, 5 years on the streets. Perspective shifts from hers to her parents, trying to piece together why Fel
Ilyhana Kennedy
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
I found this book difficult to 'get into' at first. There's something about the writing style that feels dry, staccato, distancing. But that was precisely the essence of the relationships between the central characters.
Then about a third of the way in, I was hooked. I couldn't wait to return to the story. The characters grew on me, so much so that I felt like I knew them, understood them. I related to their experiences.
Was it my imagination, or did the writing style become fuller, juicier as the
Emma Gregory
Sep 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Birds Of Paradise centers around a nuclear family during the mid nineties property boom in Miami Florida. Brian the father is a lawyer for a high powered property real estate company and is a boring character other than the fact towards the end of the story he struggles with his moral reasoning when his company tries to buy land in a poor neighborhood which would send the long time tenants into the streets practically homeless. Avis the mother is a baker and the writers long descriptions of mois ...more
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Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of Life Without A Recipe, Origin, Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. Her writing has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Ms., Salon, Vogue, Gourmet, the New York Times, The Nation, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.

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“This morning's pastry poses challenges. To assemble the tiny mosaic disks of chocolate flake and candied ginger, Avis must execute a number of discrete, ritualistic steps: scraping the chocolate with a fine grater, rolling the dough cylinder in large-grain sanding sugar, and assembling the ingredients atop each hand-cut disk of dough in a pointillist collage. Her husband wavers near the counter, watching. "They're like something Marie Antoinette would wear around her neck. When she still had one."
"I thought she was more interested in cake," Avis says, she tilts her narrow shoulders, veers around him to stack dishes in the sink.”
“He realizes finally that the boy he's been watching snap his board into the air, then neatly touch down- long, black, gleaming hair, pale white skin- is Felice. He didn't know she'd learned how to skateboard. He's never seen her like this before- so intently focused and content- her beauty beside the point, merely part of the catalog of effects- speed, balance, daring. He admires her athletic form and feels moved in some unexpected way.” 1 likes
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