According to the publisher’s description, Claudia Ulloa Donoso’s Little Bird started as a blog “about insomnia. Not hers, necessarily – the blog was never defined as fact or fiction.” Little Bird (no relation to Anaïs Nin’s book Little Birds, currently being adapted for television on STARZ) straddles that same line. Like many of her narrators in this collection of short stories, Ulloa Donoso is a Peruvian ex-pat living in Norway.
Whether these stories draw directly from her experiences or are only emotionally informed by them does not matter. Instead, the sense of dislocation that permeates the collection is much more significant. Between the immigration and insomnia, Ulloa Donoso captures a sense of unreality in each story in Little Bird.
Thoughtful & Compelling Narration
Some of the strangeness comes from the observations her narrators make. For example, in the first story, “Work Experience,” the narrator goes for a job interview while hiding an injured bird in her pocket. When she walks into the office, she gets caught in a mental spiral and eventually thinks, her interviewer will “imagine all the way down to my underwear, and what if he doesn’t imagine the right underwear for the job?”
The line is funny but also strikes at a more profound truth. This is because we have so little control over other people’s snap judgments, even when those snap judgments have such control of our lives.
While “Work Experience” kicks the collection off with something relatively realistic, the pieces in Little Bird run the gamut, veering deeply into magical realism at times. Some of Ulloa Donoso’s entries are complete stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Others are shots of feeling, vignettes, reflections on the meanings of words.
In another highlight, “Å Håpe,” the narrator reflects on the different words for waiting in Norwegian, English, and Spanish. On that single stunning page, Ulloa Donoso breaks hearts.
It is remarkable how much Ulloa Donoso can accomplish in so little space. The collection is slim, with the acknowledgments starting before page 150, but it is a book that should be read slowly. Little Bird would be best savored, so readers have time to reflect on the writing’s metaphorical richness, its beautiful descriptions, and the way its weirdness lays our world bare.
Translator Lily Meyer does excellent work with challenging subject material, especially in “Dear D,” which opens with multiple pages of words that start with the letter “D.” Little Bird is the first of Ulloa Donoso’s three books translated into English. However, it leaves no mystery Bogota39’s listed her as one of the significant Latinx writers under 40.
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|Pub Date: August 17, 2021||Page Count: 112pp||Age Range: 16 & Over|
|ISBN: 978-1-6460-5065-9||Publisher: Deep Vellum Publishing||List Price: $14.95|