This book made my heart sing. I discovered it on the 2015 Canada Reads List , and devoured it. When it was over, I felt elated.
And The Birds Rained Down is about 3 old men living in the woods. And, when I say old, I mean the youngest is 86 and the oldest is 94. The only people who know they are there are 2 younger men who are using the land behind their camps for growing marijuana.
We get to know more about these men as the story goes on, but the story is predominantly about them at their present age. Many books with aged protagonists focus on the lives they have already lived. In this story, the characters get to live some more. Their stories aren’t over yet.
The men share a death pact. They are there to live out the remainder of their lives in peace and freedom; the freedom to live and die how they choose. But, if they should ever need help, they each have a little salt box of strychnine in their cabins. They spend a lot of time talking and joking about death.
Death is an old friend. They talk about her casually. She has been on their heels for so long that they can feel her presence lurking, waiting, discreet during the day but sometimes intrusive at night. Their morning conversation is one way of keeping her at bay. Once they have said her name, she arrives, joins in their conversation, won’t relent, wanting the spotlight, and they snub her, make fun of her, at times insult her and then send her off, and she, like a good dog, goes back to gnawing her bone in the corner. She’s in no rush.
Then they are visited by two women. First, a photographer, working on a project about the Great Fires, comes looking for one of the last survivors of the Great Matheson Fire of 1916. Then, an 82-year-old lady escaping from a mental institution that she had been living in for the past 66 years. How do the men respond to this invasion? You might be surprised to find out.
What follows is a smart, quirky, touching story about life, death, and love. It has unwashed crotchety sweet old men, a couple of pot-smokers, an intelligent middle-aged woman, a bird-like old lady who is possibly off her rocker, 4 dogs and a cat, an unexpected artist, the history of the Great Fires in Ontario, an eccentric museum curator with a “collection of impossible loves”, hope, love, friendship, a quiet mystery of a past life, and the message ringing loud and clear that we are never too old to live life.
The freedom to live or to die, there’s nothing like it to make you choose life.
Love, there is only love… to explain what we don’t understand.
Happiness needs only your consent.
This book deserves a wider audience, and I hope that being on the Canada Reads Long-list this year will help make that happen. And, if recommending it here on my blog can convince someone to pick it up, that would make me happy, too!
Special thanks to C.J. for helping me to figure out why we love stories with older characters, and to realize how this one is a bit different than some. How about you? What are some of your favourite books featuring the aged, and what is it that you love about them?
Jocelyne Saucier was born in New Brunswick, but now lives in Quebec. She is the first Canadian to win the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie for her book.
22 thoughts on “And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins”
I am currently reading this book, probably 3/4 through. (You mentioned it and the library filled my request very quickly.) What a gem! I also recommend it!
That was quick! Good, I’m glad you like it, too! And, it’s not just me. 🙂
It sounds rather fab, but only seems to be available on Kindle in the UK. Will add it to my wishlist though.
My favourite book about old people is Mr Scobie’s Riddle by an Australian writer called Elizabeth Jolley: http://readingmattersblog.com/2010/05/12/mr-scobies-riddle-by-elizabeth-jolley/
I also enjoyed Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest about an old lady living alone who’s convinced a tiger roams her house at night.
Thanks for the recommendations! Mr. Scobie’s Riddle does sound wonderful. And, The Night Guest has been on my list for a while now. Perhaps I will bump it up. 🙂
What an unusual premise! It’s good to hear about something that sounds completely different to so many other book out there.
That’s one of the things I liked about it. It’s so refreshing (and fun) to come across a book that is has something a bit different to offer! It was especially fun for me in this case, as I went into it with no expectations.
Dang it, I’m trying to leave the TBR alone…
My favourite book, period (depending what day you ask me,) is The Stone Angel. I noticed that I read a couple books last year featuring and old lady reminiscing and getting into trouble – Girl Runner, Malarky, After Alice… on the male side of things, I very much enjoyed King Leary. But yeah, most of these books take place more in the past than the present.
I am reading The Stone Angel right now. And, now I see what you mean about the similarities with Girl Runner (or, the other way around, really). I find the two women’s stories very different, though, although their personalities are similar. I think you should write a post comparing the two of them! (I’m too chicken to do it.)
After Alice is still on my list, since reading your review of it. I think I’ll be even more interested since reading The Stone Angel.
I do need to review Girl Runner because it was a review book and I can’t do it without mentioning Hagar, so yup, it will be done! ooo can’t wait to hear what you think of The Stone Angel!
So far, so good!
Hm, I can’t think of a book with an older protagonist right now, other than Elizabeth Is Missing. But I can’t say that is one of my favorite books. Now let me go check if this book is available south of your border… 🙂
Oh, I hope so!
And now I am regretting my first forays back into the book blogging world as I spend so much more money with all the recommendations shooting across the screen 🙂 Hot damn, this sounds AWESOME! I will be picking it up right away, it might be my choice for February at Write Reads (though Tom King’s newest would be hard to kick off the shelf).
I typically don’t read books with the elderly as main characters, but children’s literature is full of awesome older characters as side characters (Matthew from Anne of Green Gables and many others). And Hagar is always a favourite. -Tania
Oh, good! I hope you like it! I am really loving all the old people I have been reading about lately. I seem to be on an ageing protagonist streak right now. We have missed you in the blogging world- it’s good to see you back! 🙂
I’ll put this on my list!
Ooh, I really want to read this book. With Ru, it’s the first time books by Quebec writers have selected for Canada Reads.
Wow, is the universe trying to tell us something by sending us all these wonderful books with older characters? I’m currently reading Emma and Otto and Russell and James and they are all in their eighties, but still got it. Not sure how old James, the wolf, is supposed to be.
I know! I have that one on hold at the library right now. And, after Girl Runner, I read The Stone Angel, both with very old women. I’ve loved all of them, though!
I didn’t realize it was the first time Quebec writers had been selected for Canada Reads. That surprises me!
Yes – I was thinking the exact thing when I was reading your post but was afraid it was a corny thought! 😉 I am very interested in reading older characters now and the reason is because there is so much that they can teach us. I can’t think of a less cliched way to express that. But it’s the same reason I would love to have a good heart-to-heart with someone older, someone who’s already gone through the things I am going through and may go through one day. They (hopefully) have the wisdom and hindsight that we don’t. Anyway, thanks so much for this hearty recommendation. Elizabeth is Missing is also the only book I can think of quickly that centers around an older character…otherwise Carol Shields’ Stone Diaries is on my TR list. I should try and get to that this year.
I think everyone should read this book, just because I loved it so much (I hope it’s not just me). I have been reading quite a few books lately featuring older people. After this one, I read Girl Runner, then The Stone Angel. I am loving them all! I read Stone Diaries a long time ago, so long ago that I can’t even remember anything about it. I could re-read it, or I could wait for you to read it and then remind me what is was like. 🙂
Ha ha, okay, I’ll read it and write a review of Stone Diaries for you 🙂
By the way, I thought of you today when I read about this book…have you heard of it?? It’s about an elderly couple in Canada:
Yes! I have it on hold at the library. I’m first on the list for when it comes in! Not only does it have old people, but they are traveling across the country. Hooray! 🙂