How To Turn into a Bird

Tin House. Dec. 2022. 296p. tr. from Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer. ISBN 9781953534460. pap. $16.95. F
In Ferrada’s second adult novel to be translated into English (after How To Order the Universe), Ramón accepts an offer to monitor the lights of a Coca-Cola billboard and sets up a living space inside it, with all the comforts of home—even running water and electricity. In contrast to the noisy apartment complex where he lived with his wife Paulina, this abode caters to Ramón’s desire for solitude and need for distance from humanity. The dismayed community, however, considers it an eyesore. When a child goes missing, they blame Ramón, dismantle the house, and burn it down, after which Ramón vanishes. The narration by Ramón’s 12-year-old nephew Miguel, who makes several visits to the billboard dwelling, provides remarkable insight into the psychology of the youth, as one might expect from the widely known Ferrada’s reputation as an author of many children’s books in her native Chile. The story explores not only the bonding between Miguel and Ramón, as the latter becomes the former’s friend and teacher, but also the relationships between Miguel and his mother and aunt.
VERDICT The escapist scenario may remind readers of Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, and the theme of the value and place of nonconformity in today’s society will ring true.
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