cover image A Feather on the Breath of God

A Feather on the Breath of God

Sigrid Nunez. HarperCollins Publishers, $18 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017151-3

In this luminous debut novel about a young woman of mixed race, Nunez writes with fierce clarity, rare empathy and sharp humor of immigrant dreams and frustrations. The vulnerable, nameless narrator, who grows up in a Brooklyn housing project in the 1950s and '60s, is the daughter of Carlos, a silent, workaholic Chinese-Panamanian father, and Christa, a self-dramatizing German mother, who met shortly after V-E Day in Germany. Moving to New York in 1948, they raise three daughters in a marriage marked by poverty, violent quarrels and Christa's agoraphobia. Through flashbacks, Nunez shows Christa growing up in a Catholic boarding school taken over by the Nazis, while her father, an anti-Hitler protester, is arrested and confined in a concentration camp. The narrator-ignored by her father and dominated by her mother-escapes into a perfectionistic, masochistic world of ballet classes and becomes anorexic. Later, she has a doomed affair with a married Russian immigrant taxi driver with an unsavory past. The novel is marked by uncompromising honesty and the vivid immediacy of Nunez's prose. Author tour. (Jan.)