cover image How to Turn into a Bird

How to Turn into a Bird

María José Ferrada, trans. from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer. Tin House, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-953534-46-0

Chilean writer Ferrada (How to Order the Universe) delivers an enchanting story of a 30-something man who makes his home behind a billboard. After Ramon secures a job overseeing construction of a Coca-Cola sign, he builds a “ramshackle nest” on the platform. Residents of the labyrinthine housing complex below think he’s gone mad, but his 12-year-old nephew Miguel, who narrates, remains enamored of Ramon’s eccentricities and makes frequent visits. Trouble ensues when the Annual Children’s Day celebration is invaded by a motley group of rock-throwing children from the nearby mud shanties. They’re run off by the residents, but tensions rise when the kids return with a grandfatherly old man whom the residents call the “Bag Man,” who was supposed to move into the complex but opted to live on the streets instead. Before the end, Ramon and his billboard are drawn into the escalating violence. Miguel’s perceptive and sympathetic view of iconoclasts like Ramon and the Bag Man makes him an indelible child narrator. As in Ferrada’s past work, this one has much to say on themes of acceptance, conformity, and societal expectations. (Dec.)