"And the Birds Rained Down" by Jocelyne Saucier
Tom and Charlie are two men who have decided to live out the last years of their lives on their own in a remote forest in Northern Ontario. Their only contact with the outside world are the men who grow marijuana on their land and bring them supplies. But all of this changes with the arrival of two women.
A young photographer comes first. She is looking for one of the last known survivors of the catastrophic fires that swept the area almost a century earlier. This man, Ted, used to live with Tom and Charlie but is recently deceased. The second arrival is the elderly aunt of one of the men who brings them their deliveries. The woman who wants to be known as Marie-Desneige, has been living in a psychiatric institution since the age of sixteen.
After the four of them come across what Ted has left behind, a magnificent series of paintings about the fires, they put together the history of the man and the region. And as they do so, they all face their own ideas about life, aging, and self-determination.
And the Birds Rained Down, written by Jocelyne Saucier and translated to English by Rhonda Mullins, is a fascinating and haunting novel that addresses an issue we all face - aging. A finalist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for French-to-English Translation and a selection for Canada Reads 2015, this is a novel for people of all walks of life.
Like many others, I wondered just how much I would take away from this book as I am a few decades away from facing this part of life. I figured it would be a good story, but how much would I take away from it personally? But the book exudes wisdom that will relate to people of any age and any place.
This is very much a Canadian novel - quiet, thoughtful, powerful. There is so much wrapped in this book, with many issues covered - aging, death, mental health, and choosing how to live your life. I thought the introduction of Marie-Desneige was great as the comparison between her life and the lives of the two men made me think about how much any of us are free to determine our lives. How heart-breaking that we spend so much of our lives constrained by so many factors and in our last years there are different factors still dictating how we live.
I was immediately drawn into this book, not wanting to put it down. Through the middle, it slowed down a bit for me and unfortunately it didn't finish as strong for me as it started. I never felt fully drawn into the storyline between Charlie and Marie-Desneige and that is where it changed for me. However, it didn’t make me want to put down the book. Overall this was an enjoyable read and I see why it was chosen a selection for Canada Reads.