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: Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

Updated 21 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

  • The book not only lays down rules but offers tips for writers who want to be clear and elegant as well as correct

Benjamin Dreyer has presented a splendid book that is part manual, part memoir, and chockfull of suggestions for tightening and clarifying prose. 

“Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style” is a treat for those who delight in words and arranging them well. 

The book not only lays down rules but offers tips for writers who want to be clear and elegant as well as correct, states Sarah Lyall in a review published in The New York Times. 

Dreyer is vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House. He began his publishing career as a freelance proofreader and copy editor. 

A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in New York City. He has copyedited books by authors including E. L. Doctorow, David Ebershoff, Frank Rich, and Elizabeth Strout, as well as Let Me Tell You, a volume of previously uncollected work by Shirley Jackson.