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My Dad's a Birdman Paperback – April 2, 2015
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This certainly is a quite a beautiful story. Using metaphors and imagery of flight and birds to help a father and daughter overcome the grief from the death of the mother makes for a touching story. On the surface we have a silly, whimsical, humorous story of a dad who is turning into a bird so he can win the Great Human Bird Competition, right down to living on bugs and worms and building a huge nest in the middle of the kitchen floor. Underneath the story is about a man who literally looses his mind when his wife dies and becomes obsessed with birds while the daughter takes on the parental role of looking after him, to see him through this rough patch.
The story is hilarious with the antics of dad; then enter Auntie Doreen and her baking dumplings as a cure for everything that ails one and throwing them when it doesn't work. There is a riot of colour and silliness when the Great Human Bird Competition begins and we see and watch all the other contestants as they try to fly over the river to win money in all sorts of contraptions and get ups. But there is a small darkness beneath everything that gradually lightens throughout the story. The mom's death is only barely even referred to; the words death and die are never used. Underlying the dad's silly behaviour is his grief, to the astute reader, and underneath the daughter's looking after her dad is the need to know he is still there for her. They both need to know that though mom is gone they still have each other. Through the use of birds, flight, metaphors and other references to going up they let their grief go and one can even feel a religiousness in the upward/skyward theme if one's thoughts turn that way. A touching, yet hilarious story.
In the end Lizzie and her dad participate together in the Great Human Bird Competition, a sort of flugtag where people adorn themselves in wings and rockets and whatnot and attempt to traverse a body of water propelled under their own power. Dad's obsession with flying at first seems a bi-product of a mental break-down, but as Lizzie (and eventually her Headmaster) discover as they participate in the competition, the act of faith necessary to hurl yourself into the world is exactly what they both need in order to move ahead with their lives. Feeling more alive than before, they reconnoiter back at Aunt Doreen's for some dumplings and find themselves dancing with a new-found joy, a joy that leaves them lighter than birds and flying off the ground.
Almond has managed to dip his pen into Roald Dahl's inkwell and produce a magnificent examination of what it means to find joy after loss, for a family to find their way through the other side of the darkness no matter how odd it may look on the outside. Aunt Doreen and the Headmaster understand the situation and are keeping tabs to make sure that Lizzie and her dad don't fall to far off track, but they hang back enough to let the process run its course.
The feel of this book is what gives it the Dahl flavor in my mind. It would be hard to imagine this story in a contemporary environment without meddling government agencies and relatives who would insist on remaining in the home to assure everything was alright. Aunt Doreen makes a social call but is driven from the house by the sheer absurdity of it all, promising to return with help. The help she return with isn't the police or child protective services but the school headmaster who is more interested in joining Lizzie and her dad in their adventure rather than find fault, place a judgment, or insist on a return to normalcy. It is also in the child as the responsible one and the adults as fools that I find the spectre of Dahl lurking.
Almond can't seem to get away from the connections he makes with birds and death, and certainly there's enough mythology, symbolism, and history to support these connections. But Almond chose the bird's ability to fly to show a rising above, a phoenix-like symbolism for a family being reborn from the ashes of their sorrow. There is nothing sad or sorrowful in the book itself, the entire affair has a sense of whimsy to it, but it's all there just below the surface allowing us to how happiness and joy can re-emerge from experience.
To deal with the loss of mam, Dad decides to enter a human bird contest. His daughter joins with him, and it becomes a story about the power of love between parent and child.
I enjoyed the story and the writing. Like I said, it was a bit different, but it was worth my time.
Top international reviews
Then decided to read again - enjoyable read