The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

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Rating – 5 stars

Ending this book reminded me of an old Hindi saying which goes like this

Khatha ki lamhe ne, Sazaa payee sadiyoon ne

Translation – a moment erred and centuries suffered.

Guzeman’ debut novel, is without a doubt one of those books which explore relationships in a non-judgemental way. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t have a hero or a heroine, the protagonist at the core of everything, around whom the story revolves. Instead it can be described as a narration of decisions gone wrong, of mistakes being made, of misunderstandings and wrong judgement calls. It can be described as being utterly and purely an exploration of what it is to be human.

It has in all its rawness, characters which can be best termed as grey. No one is so good that the person comes across as a doormat, nor is anyone so evil, that redemption is not possible. Its another thing though, that you may be too late to fix mistakes, right the wrongs or even get an opportunity to apologize. 

At age 28, an eccentric, brilliant artist Thomas Bayber, crosses paths with the Kesslar sisters – Alice & Natalie  in the summer of 1963, when the girls with their parents, rent a cabin in Thomas’ neighborhood. A 14 year old Alice, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis; has a great deal of interest in ornithology and her older sister Natalie. At 17, she has suddenly turned against her own family, and this is not her being a teen rebel. No, Natalie is rather driven by circumstances to hate her family.

44 years later, Thomas entrusts the responsibility of locating the sisters to his most ardent fan and friend, Dennis Finch – a university professor and Thomas’s personal authenticator along with Stephen Jameson – a disgraced art expert. They have to find the missing two pieces of a triptych, that the sisters have – of a never seen or catalogued painting by Thomas, his most scandalous piece ever. The subjects of the painting being the sisters & himself, also makes it Thomas’ most personal piece. 

What Thomas does not reveal to Dennis & Stephen is, the search for the missing pieces means to him a lot more than he is letting on. It isn’t mere monetary profits he is seeking. What he is seeking means to him a lot more.

What unravels over the course of this search is, Thomas’ history with the sisters and secrets which affect their lives. Secrets, which came into existence based on  decisions made sometimes on a spur of the moment, which have consequences that impact them for a lifetime. Whether these decisions were mistakes made of a momentary lapse of judgement or urge to hurt or conscious choices is ambiguous. All the while depicting Dennis & Stephen’s own stories in co-relation to their finds, making them question some of the things in their lives while regretting others. 

Without a doubt one of the most beautiful and exhaustive pieces I have read in a while. Guzeman is an author to watch out for. Her lyrical prose is an enchanting work of art. 

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