Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s “Where the Bird Disappeared” is a beautiful yet haunting novel. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

CHICAGO: Taking a leaf from the real-life stories of Prophet Zakariyya and his son Yahya, Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s “Where the Bird Disappeared” is a beautiful yet haunting novel set in the village of Zakariyya, in modern-day Palestine.
Inspired by Qur’anic stories and political history, the novel talks about the relationship between Zakariyya and his best friend Yahya who not only share their names with the two prophets but bear a distant resemblance to their personalities and fates as well.
Zaqtan’s narrative is lyrical, heartbreaking and profound. Rooted in Palestine — a land that stood the test of time and would go on to become the hub of early and modern civilizations — the story is captivating enough to transport us to the hideaway monastery in Nuba Karam or the vineyards of Beit Jalla, the new homes for several villagers forced into exile.
Recalling the devastation and violence faced by those migrating from their homes and country, Zaqtan’s ability to take his readers through the same mountain paths and into the soul of his characters is a cause for applause. As Zaqtan writes of his central character, Zakariyya, “he felt he was walking inside a book, stumbling inside stories that had circulated in these hills since his birth. Journeys and names repeating themselves in succession without end.” And while the novel succeeds in digging deep into the annals of history, it also makes the reader realize how much impact the land of Palestine has had on the two characters and the various stories generating from the region.
Zaqtan’s tale is gentle enough to etch out images of each village, street or ancient structure that make the story and yet devastating enough that these get lost in the bigger picture. His brilliance lies in how conscious he is about the words used, while never losing sight of the historical context of his narrative or the love of the central characters for their beloved land.
Ghassan Zaqtan is an award-winning Palestinian poet, novelist, and playwright. He first published “Where the Bird Disappeared” in Arabic in 2015. It was then translated into English by Samuel Wilder and published by Seagull Books in 2018.


What We Are Reading Today: The Proof and the Pudding by Jim Henle

Updated 21 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Proof and the Pudding by Jim Henle

  • Pleasurable and lighthearted, The Proof and the Pudding is a feast for the intellect as well as the palate

Tie on your apron and step into Jim Henle’s kitchen as he demonstrates how two equally savory pursuits — cooking and mathematics — have more in common than you realize. A tasty dish for gourmets of popular math, The Proof and the Pudding offers a witty and flavorful blend of mathematical treats and gastronomic delights that reveal how life in the mathematical world is tantalizingly similar to life in the kitchen.

Take a tricky Sudoku puzzle and a cake that fell. Henle shows you that the best way to deal with cooking disasters is also the best way to solve math problems. Or take an L-shaped billiard table and a sudden desire for Italian potstickers. He explains how preferring geometry over algebra (or algebra over geometry) is just like preferring a California roll to chicken tikka masala. Do you want to know why playfulness is rampant in math and cooking? Or how to turn stinky cheese into an awesome ice cream treat? It’s all here: original math and original recipes plus the mathematical equivalents of vegetarianism, Asian fusion, and celebrity chefs.

Pleasurable and lighthearted, The Proof and the Pudding is a feast for the intellect as well as the palate. Jim Henle is the Myra M. Sampson Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Smith College. His books include Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic and Calculus: The Language of Change. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.