Twenty-six years after World War III, Madeline, who lost her sight in a fire as an infant, lives a healthy life in a small Utopian community built as an anti-thesis to what initially caused the war, the history of which has been romanticized to keep the knowledge of sin, corruption and vice from the consciousness of its kin. When Grayland, a stranger from the outside world, stumbles upon the community, Madeline becomes intoxicated by his presence, sensing a connection to him that she doesn’t understand. When he offers her the chance to experience the world she so desires to be a part of, Madeline follows him into a truth she’s not at all ready to accept.
Spiritually resonant and genuine in its conviction, “Year of the Songbird” deals with the power of addiction, sexual and spiritual awakening, the corruption of labels, how outside influences can devour even the strongest of convictions, and how weakness and vice are more easily attained than virtue and happiness.
“When I was given the opportunity of sight, I wasn’t afraid of what I would see; I was afraid of what I would feel. And what I felt was a burning need to return to the fruit of my blindness, for only in the dark was I truly able to see.” — Madeline of the Ark, R.H. 28
Year of the Songbird was suggested to me, and after reading the blurb, I thought that book was something I usually would be interested in reading. Unfortunately, my initial reaction after reading the first chapter was to give up. The language used is very advanced, and this might scare off some readers before they even get into the gut of the story. It is worth struggling through those first few chapters. Lucky the story moves forward, and the language is easier to deal with once more diverse characters were introduced.
I have to say my favourite part of the novel was the interconnectivity between characters. Relationships formed during the early chapters cause reactions when new characters are introduced later. Meeting new characters and for their presence to mean more due to an early moment makes it fun for the reader. It is an intricate process and done well.
I did feel the details were at the perfect pace to give a full picture. Without exacting details acts of violence and love were fully exposed and explored without it being distracting or leaving me feeling distraught.
Unfortunately the list of things I did not like far outweighed the enjoyment.
Year of the Songbird is very relevant for our political climate and could be seen by some as a warning. The author clearly has some adamant opinions regarding a hypothetical future where America has fallen after a war with the Islamic State. Throughout the book, different characters fill in the blanks of the steps before the war, the hostile takeover, and the eventual end of freedom as we know it. Through these stories, we get to see exactly how they remember these events accumulating over time and their final effects. I openly admit that due to the biased opinions expressed by certain characters, that there were passages in this book that were hard for me to read. I kept waiting for a strong counter-argument to help even out the hatred towards Muslims and Mexicans, but it never appeared.
The author needs to understand that physical and sexual abuse are not gender exclusive. If a woman is threatened in this book, it is immediately sexual. Rape is mentioned several times, and the main character herself is forced to it by other characters, but this is never spoken about being used against a man. Characters discuss past experiences where they witnessed the rape of women close to them, but no male character says they were raped. Men are routinely beaten by others, and women get into physical fights, but it appears the author believes only a woman can be threatened sexually.
Finally, the protagonist is blind, and there are a few scenes where she does describe actions that she couldn't possibly see. This adds to our feelings of the main character not being reliable. A slight inconvenience to the reader, but when you add this to the tendency of the author skipping meaningful discussions and replacing them with a quick sentence, it is worth mentioning. An example of this would be "I walked into the house, we had an argument, and I left." I would have preferred to hear the argument. It felt to me that the author was watching their word count instead of focusing on the drama.
Overall, the author clearly knows how to write a book. The flow of the story is textbook quality. Their use of English can be a little intimidating in the beginning, but since the languages are used as character traits, it is easily forgivable. The pacing of drama, reconciliation, and finally closure is good, and the overall plot is something that others may respond to in a good way. However, the ending of the novel was painful to witness - and not in a good way. Madeline does not grow throughout this novel. She reaches no further understanding and remains as selfish as she seemed at the beginning of the book. I felt cheated by the ending and if she was a real person, punching her in the face might make me feel better (although she would probably kick my butt after my first attempt)
I received this book, with thanks, through Goodreads First Reads.
Bear with this book. It has a slow start and never really picks up pace but there is a nice story embedded in it, and it's worth the read.
Year of the Songbird has remnants of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. Not in terms of character, but in terms of the layout of the world in this post-apocolytic America, the pace of the story, and the times of hunger. Both books involve a world covered in ash after a nuclear attack, although the reason for the attack stems from different backgrounds.
We get to see this post-apocolyptic world through the eyss of a blind narrator, which makes for interesting reading as you come to understand how she is 'seeing' things around her. We learn of her blindness from the synposis on the back of the book, but it's not unti several pages in that we are told from the story. Until then, the story is a little confusing as you're both aware of her blindness, but waiting for this information to come from the narration. There are some decriptive points in the first few pages which would serve better in a third person narrative because of this.
Throughout her journey, Madeline (our narrator) changes and grows as a person, and I could see the changes not only from her own descriptions of herself, but from the way she acted and spoke. Once I realised the changes weere being intergrated into her more subtley than I original thought, there was an appreciation for the writer. I found myself sympathising with the narrator for her upbringing, which had shielded her from the world, and therefore from the life lessons she is now learning the hard way. It was an interesting learning curve to witness. And the author managed to through in a few random observations which stem from her blindness which grounded the character.
Without giving away the plot - it's a nicely written book, although I feel some deeply emotive parts could have been dwelt on further. Saying that, if you're after something easy to read on a wet afternoon with a cup of tea which is a different take on the usual post-apocolyptic novel - this could be exactly what you're looking for.