A talented writer’s first-person narrative, where the author, Sigrid Nunez, explores her immigrant parents and the impact they have had on her own life.
Employing a distinctive, stream-of-consciousness style, Nunez shares sometimes random memories which, when taken together, paint rich, multi-dimensional images of her parents. They are both remote, complex, and struggling to fit into an America which does meet their expectations. And they are fundamentally mismatched.
Her Chinese-Panamanian father works so many hours, in low-paying jobs, that he barely has time for ANY relationship with his wife and children. Her stay-at-home mother, a German immigrant, is deeply unhappy and longs to return to her homeland, complaining to her family all the time. Neither parent loves the other and their fights provide a continuous soundtrack to the lives of their young daughters.
As a teen, the narrator eventually finds some satisfactory escape and identity in studying ballet — in appreciating its beauty, recognizing its inherent sexism, and through exposure to fellow students from more privileged backgrounds. Though determined not to marry, the author also describes an intense, long-term affair with a Russian immigrant — one whose personal values and experiences differ so completely from her own.
However, while the four portraits Nunez creates (father, mother, self, lover) are vibrant and complex, there is little story to this narrative. It feels much more like the author’s recollections of episodes in her life. No one comes off as particularly admirable. The ending did not provide much resolution. Instead, it felt to me like A FEATHER ON THE BREATH OF GOD is a young writer’s attempting to understand her parents’ immigrant experience and the ways it damaged her.
More about the author, Sigrid Nunez.