Review: Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Where the Bird Sings Best
One cannot fully and truly appreciate Where the Bird Sings Best without watching multifaceted Alejandro Jodorowsky's movies. In the least, The Holy Mountain and The Dance of Reality must be seen and reflected upon before picking this fictional memoir, which is a part of a trilogy of his three best works, all being published by Restless Books: Donde mejor canta un pájaro (Where the Bird Sings Best), El niño del jueves negro (The Son of Black Thursday), and Albina y los hombres perro (Albina and the Dog Men).

It being a fictional memoir, how many of the names are true and which conjured up can only be left to one's imagination. Not that it matters. His family chart is not a simple one to understand, with similar names popping up in many generations. His father, Jaime, had four other siblings: brothers Jose (who dies during a flood in Dnepropetrovsk trying to float atop a wooden chest which was "stuffed with the thirty-seven treatises in the Talmud") and Benjamin; sisters Lola and Fanny. His paternal grandfather was Alejandro Jodorowsky and paternal grandmother Teresa Groisman, who had a sister Fiera Seca. His paternal grandfather's parents were Jaime Levi and Lea; while his paternal grandmother's parents were Abraham Groisman and Raquel. Jodorowsky pours his vivid and sometimes child-like imagination onto historical narratives, and what this results in is a phrase often applied to his work - psychomagical. The characters are not just humanly in flesh and blood, but sometimes other-worldly in behaviour and descriptions. Often it did remind me of Rushdie's prose, especially in Midnight's Children. His paternal grandmother's father, Abraham Groisman, would be covered in "from head to foot without ever stinging him. Then they would follow him like a docile cloud to the shed where he bottled the delicious honey, and many nights, especially during the glacial winters, they would gather on his bed to form a dark, warm, and vibrant blanket". Often the contrasting meanings would nothing but lie supine in front of you to be devoured of meaning: "Teresa's mother, Raquel, was thirteen when she gave birth in the cemetery". Dark imagery and shrouded portrayals apart, sinister twists await the reader - like when Teresa's sister, Fiera Seca, who had been taught to make horrible faces to scare off Death, falls in love with her father, Abraham, and escapes with him. Abraham during the course, and later even Fiera Seca, commit suicide by drowning in a tub of honey - with no feeling of fear or suffering, but only pallid expressions. The appearance of a man, Hindu in disposition and dark in colour while speaking an incomprehensible tongue of Sanskrit, results in Benjamin losing his hair due to a series of missteps. The efforts of Teresa and Alejandro, the paternal grand-parents, due to an ensuing hatred of the Jews are a piece not of fiction but of a deeply felt sordid reality of the past. God as someone who is hated by Teresa is offset to some extent by the Rabbi, imaginary nonetheless, who is at all times next to Teresa's husband and guides him in times difficult. One cannot help but notice how characters morph their identities to escape death and renew their life in lands unseen and un-accepting societies, whether in their own homeland or in the ones faraway, like Chile. This was the story on his father's side in Ukraine. Then he narrates that of his mother's side in Lithuania. And later they come together in South America and Alejandro Jodorowsky is ultimately born, signalling the end of this memoir.

Jodorowsky's novel doesn't restrict itself to fanciful narratives of mindless imagination, but also blends in the concepts of community welfare, anarchy, socialism, power and rule. The characters could be comical, repulsive, bestial, or even non-existing; but the significance of their dialectic sayings and pedagogical musings is not lost on them. This novel is a very different kind of work which you would rarely come across; it will absorb you, refuse to let go of you from its depths, and when released one will not be the same. Difficult at times, this is not your regular fictional memoir, but one which is ensconced in a crude mix of deliberately outrageous and unreachable sadness with critical reflections of the ways of life.

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