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A Feather on the Breath of God

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  481 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A young woman looks back to the world of her immigrant parents: a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother. Growing up in a housing project in the 1950s and 1960s, she escapes into dreams inspired both by her parents' stories and by her own reading and, for a time, into the otherworldly life of ballet. A yearning, homesick mother, a silent and withdrawn father, the ba ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Picador (first published January 1st 1995)
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3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  481 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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J.L.   Sutton
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sigrid Nunez’s A Feather on the Breath of God is a compelling and thought provoking exploration of memory, displacement and identity. Like her most recent novel, The Friend (which I read earlier this year), A Feather on the Breath of God has a very raw and personal feel to it. The novel is divided into four essays. The first, Chang, explores the narrator’s relationship with her emotionally distant Chinese-Panamanian father. The second, Christa, recounts memories and fragments of memories as the ...more
Daniel Clausen
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Honest. Beautiful. Unique.

Sigrid Nunez’s Feather on the Breath of God is the closest thing I've found to a perfect novel. I suspect I will read this book several times, reverse engineer it, and try to divine its secrets.

The details of this book were so good that it was actually hard to believe this wasn't a memoir. Maybe this book is a memoir in a roundabout way. After all, it's easier to tell the truth in fiction, a truth unbound by facts.

What makes this book so great?

Some of the elements are
Kasey Jueds
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
What I kept thinking over and over as I read this book is how incredibly true it feels--as if I were looking right through the words to the author's deepest heart. Late in the book, there is a description of a certain kind of sex feeling like not only one's clothes, but one's skin, had been peeled away--and the writing here seemed to me to have the same absolutely naked quality. Spare and strange and heartful, and unusually structured--in a way it's like four separate essays (on the speaker's fa ...more
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book. It focuses on the experiences of a daughter of immigrants and the various sections of the book illuminate the experiences of a biracial woman with indepth portraits of her parents, who nonetheless remain a mystery to her. I loved this author's book The Last of Her Kind.
Leah Shafer
Sep 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My friend Catherine and I recently joined The Writer's Garret here in Dallas and saw the two-hour interview with Rick Moody at Theatre Three last month. It was tremendously enjoyable--his perspective on the craft of writing had me furiously scribbling notes in the dark. But I was sad not to have read any of his novels beforehand (The Black Veil, The Diviners, The Ice Storm). I imagine it would have made the experience all the richer.

On the 27th of this month, Sigrid Nunez is being interviewed a
Susan Carpenter
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love contemporary literature
Recommended to Susan by: I heard about the author. It is her first.
The writing of "A Feather on the Breath of God" is as wonderful as the promise held out by its title: clear, deceptively simple language, with shining threads and dark threads woven through the story of the daughter of two immigrants growing up in New York City. There are four sections: the first is about her father, born in Panama of a Chinese family, never fluent in English, showing love chiefly by his incessant toil. The second section examines the mother, a German immigrant who loves reading ...more
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My favorite of Sigrid's books!

(I can call Sigrid by her first name because I took a class with her ten years ago at Smith College and plan to keep bragging about it for the rest of my life.)

She has this non-linear, mostly plotless style that takes some getting used to, but her punctuation is amazing (seriously! it inspires me!) and her prose is just so lovely.
Elli (The Bibliophile)
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
A well written novel that felt very personal, as if the narrator was baring her soul to the reader.
Cherise Wolas
A couple of years ago I read the Last of Her Kind by Nunez, which was quite powerful. And last year, she won the National Book Award for The Friend, which I haven't yet read. I went back to the beginning, to read her first novel, a debut that is very much memoir. There are many unanswered questions because the family didn't talk about many things, and the unnamed narrator tries to piece together what she knows and doesn't know. The youngest daughter of three, born to a Chinese-Panamanian father ...more
Diana Striedieck
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Feather on the Breath of God beguiled me. Sigrid Nunez is an intuitive writer, who paints immersive portraits of her characters by focusing on seemingly small, but consequential details. Undercurrents of rejection course throughout the story, caused in large part by a cultural unmooring. This novel is an original take on what it’s like to be a mixed child of two immigrant parents who never really assimilated to America, but could no longer fit back in their respective home countries. All along, ...more
James Winter
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
At first, I had difficulty with this book because of its structure. First, the father. Then, the mother. Next, the young girl's dreams. Finally, the affair with Vadim. It felt like a lot of feeling around, with the tenuous connection between parts being the idea of a character rather than a developed narrator with agency.

But then a wonderful thing happened. By the fourth part, it hit me: the narrator has no idea who she is. Even her therapist points this out. Even the narrator acknowledges it.
A tumbling out story that has no middle and no end. except the exhaustion of the writer and the reader. The experience and the rawness is genuine, and what one wishes for here is not packaging or sanitising, but some kind of story that doesn't become more fractured as it becomes more recent - as if the damage and hurt or the nearest recollections makes them too painful to record, or too difficult to tease apart. This is a writer of considerable talent, but an even more talented writer might have ...more
Fiza Pathan
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most beautifully written books I've read this year. Sigrid Nunez writes poetry in the form of prose. Her character sketches make you yearn to turn page after page...just simply to know more about them. A powerful fiction book which has immigration as its main topic. The book is handled with class, elegance & the poise of an accomplished story-teller. Mind blowing ! I have to learn a lot from her. Kudos !
Alejandra Rodriguez
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just perfect, poignant, and painful prose.
I don't think I'll ever be the same after reading this book. Even the page numbering format is perfect.
Joanne Serling
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I took this book on vacation to Miami with me and was so blown away that I had to keep setting it down on my chaise lounge to think about the incredible insights Nunez had about parents, her own and everybody else's. The final section, called Immigrants, is a total knock out and I've already re-read it twice--and plan to read it again. Nunez is one of the greatest living writers, IMHO, and the National Book Award for The Friend was long over due.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
divinely written in vintage nunez form. i have so many thoughts about the first-person used here, this particular iteration of the memoiristic mode. I wonder what b.t. would say about this… I wanna write an in-depth review. soon, perhaps!
Kathy Piselli
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The description of her Swabian mother is priceless, complaining about cleaners who "just smear the dirt around" and with "that love for animals that is unmistakably against humans". Never will I forget the image of a woman removing little growths on the whites of her eyes with a needle.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it did not like it
Fragmented narration and unsuccessful stream of consciousness writing. I had no sympathy, empathy or engagement with any of the characters. It was a short read, so I did not majorly regret the expenditure of my time.
Emma Filtness
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Reads like a memoir, fragmented yet insightful. Explores culture, heritage and intergenerational conflict.
John Morgan
Mar 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
Gave up. Not even thinly veiled memoir told as fiction, lacking everything. Just not very good at all.
Justin Evans
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This was really disappointing; I loved Salvation City, which was poised, objective, intelligent and clear. This is rapturous, deeply personal, irrational and unreflective. Now, it just so happens that the book pushes almost every button on my pad of "Things I Dislike." A brief list would include:

* attempts to use language as a metaphysical analogy for everything.
* unnecessary mentions of The Body as metaphysical analogy for everything.
* belief that the real problems of the world are problems of
Apr 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
The protagonist's father is Chinese but from Panama, her mother is German. They can barely communicate with each other, but somehow managed to fall in love in Germany, then out of love in Brooklyn. The book traces her life as she tries to interpret each of her parents' broken English, and her later romance with a Russian-speaking Ukranian gangster immigrant. I enjoyed it because of how it examines how language influences experience, as well as ideas of where home is, and what solace we can find ...more
Jan 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
I picked this up at thhis year's BookFest-- what a treat to read! I'm not sure I could describe it well, but when reading, I was absorbed in each separate section and character. I picked up the author's second book, as well, and look forward to reading that, soon.

From the Publisher

In this profoundly moving novel, a young woman looks back to the world of her immigrant parents: a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother who meet in post-war Germany and settle in New York. Growing up in a hou
How do you come to terms with emotionally detached parents, in this case a Panamanian-Chinese father and a German mother, who have lived through the trauma of WWII, never got the counseling they probably should have had, and who never adapted to their new life in America? Well, you will be messed up in one way or another.
I found this book insightful, sensitive, and funny. It highlights how one generations language barriers and cultural differences in temperament and outlook on life can cause co
Jan 14, 2017 rated it liked it
A random pick from my public library shelves. This fictionalized account of the author's life as a multiracial girl growing up in NYC housing. The first 3/4 of the book were wonderful meditations on her father, her mother and herself. The fourth part, about her adulterous affair with a cab driver from Odessa, held no interest and offered no insights. That said, the writing throughout is beautiful - both spare and richly detailed, much like Ms. Nunez, a former ballerina, herself. If you like good ...more
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book both times I read it. It's about a Chinese-German young woman who has an affair with a Russian immigrant with a seedy past. She evokes her parents and childhood so poetically. I think it's semi-autobiographical. Sadly, the library where I work doesn't own it anymore, otherwise I would be talking it up!

"One wants a way of looking back without anger or bitterness or shame. One wants to be able to tell everything without blaming or apologizing." (94)

"I want to get down something T
Nov 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sigrid Nunez speaks both to the common experience of the immigrant, the challenges and joys and prejudices he or she faces, as well as her own unique position in her family, in the projects, in her sexuality, and in her identity. With beautiful descriptions about her relationships with her father and mother, as well as her love for and self-expression in the art of ballet, and finally the provocative and eye-opening relationship she carries with a Russian immigrant studying English as a second l ...more
Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
The story of a half Chinese, half German girl growing up in the NYC projects. It's broken up into 4 sections; the first two, covering the lives of her parents and her relationship, are excellent; the third, about her time as a ballet dancer, was kind of boring, but at least it was short; the final section is about her relationship with a Russian junkie/pimp/cab driver--it's hilarious and poignant.

I'm definitely not the target audience for this book, but I enjoyed it. The writing's lyrical, and t
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Sigrid Nunez always writes beautifully. She is especially good at evoking the sense of what it is like to observe another person and to try to understand them. Through sharply observed details, she paints a portrait of her rather painful relationships with her parents, a lover, and her own body. It's a sad, poetic book that skillfully replicates the experience of being privy to someone else's innermost thoughts and feelings.
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Sigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Th ...more