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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

How to Turn Into a Bird

María José Ferrada

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To purchase How to Turn Into a Bird

Title: How to Turn Into a Bird
Author: María José Ferrada
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: How to Turn Into a Bird - US
El hombre del cartel - US
How to Turn Into a Bird - UK
How to Turn Into a Bird - Canada
La casa sul cartello - Italia
El hombre del cartel - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Spanish title: El hombre del cartel
  • Translated by Elizabeth Bryer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very well crafted; effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Imparcial A+ 19/12/2021 Francisco Estévez
La Nacion . 28/12/2021 Noelia Rivero

  From the Reviews:
  • "El hombre del cartel es una obra mayor dentro de un género pequeño porque no es menor la categoría del relato largo o novela corta, y por el hecho de ser sobresaliente es una de las novelas del año que desfallece sin remedio ante nosotros." - Francisco Estévez, El Imparcial

  • "(L)a simpleza que habita la narración del niño hace aún más aguda la mirada crítica, no solo de los problemas económicos de la periferia chilena -- eso que ocultan las luces de los carteles que venden felicidad --, sino también de la precarización de los afectos colectivos, del resentimiento antes que de la solidaridad triunfando en el espíritu de un pueblo (.....) El ascenso y descenso de este personaje, el cartel de una empresa transnacional que oculta los cerros, algún que otro fantasma desoído y la posibilidad ensoñadora de un resto de infancia de Miguel harán de esta novela una gran parábola que ilustra mejor que un postulado de geopolítica el momento actual de nuestra región, sus heridas más domésticas" - Noelia Rivero, La Nacion

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       How to Turn Into a Bird is narrated by now twelve-year-old Miguel, recounting events since his aunt's longtime partner Ramón had moved out of the apartment they shared -- moving to a nearby Coca-Cola billboard, a place he finds perfectly suited to his needs. Ramón works for a company that erects such billboards, and was able to convince his boss to keep him employed in this new capacity -- basically, just hanging out up there.
       Ramón lived with Paulina in a housing complex, in the apartment next to where Miguel and his mother live. (Miguel's father is not in the picture.) It's a working-class community, the residents struggling some -- the cheap construction means that everything can be heard through the walls -- but with some sense of stability. Miguel's mother is constantly complaining, but:

     My mother owned one of the small stores in the housing complex and was an active participant in the neighborhood council. In both places she felt that others took advantage, even though she was the one doubling prices in the first instance, and the one proposing the agenda in the second.
       Ramón essentially removes himself from this (and basically all) society, but takes completely to his new perch and home, both for the far-reaching view it affords as well as because he now finds himself: "just the way he liked to be: alone".
       Miguel goes to visit him with Paulina -- whose son he is often mistaken for -- regularly. Ramón drinks a fair amount, but tends to the off-in-his-own-world anyway. So also, he is not very talkative:
     As could be expected, he said nothing. He knew that once trapped in words, the events that circulated in the air became a concrete presence. Or an absence, in his case.
       Ramón's choice, removing himself from the community in this way -- and setting up a home in a billboard, visible to all --, rubs especially Miguel's mother the wrong way. It's even a subject that makes it onto the agenda of the neighborhood council meetings -- albeit not near the top of the list. A more pressing issue is the homeless, another presence that does not fit within the community-fold, and makes for increasing tensions.
       Miguel carefully navigates this world -- well aware "that anybody could become the rejected cat, depending on the group's mood". Only late in the story do the tensions then find a real spark, when a child disappears, mob-mentality then quickly breaking out.
       Ferrada presents the story in three parts -- a short 'First Week', a longer section of 'The Days Following', and then culminating in the dark turn of 'The Final Days'. Very short chapters are also presented in short pieces -- generally just paragraph by paragraph --, Miguel's telling of the story deceptively simple but resonant. What offends about Ramón is his unwillingness to accept that: "there was a structure, an order to things", but as Ferrada shows in How to Turn Into a Bird, this supposed order and structure is tenuous and arbitrary, and other forces are at play, too. The tale long seems, in both its telling and events, light and airy, but is also firmly grounded in a recognizably real world, from the capitalist system in which Paulina and Miguel's mother work to the dangers of the crowd. It is then also a novel of breaking with the system -- first Ramón, and then, in the conclusion, Paulina --, a realization that hope lies elsewhere.
       It's well put together, and well written, a carefully crafted poignant story that proves a lot deeper (and darker) than it appears at first sight. There's an almost sketch-like quality to Miguel's voice -- and the book is very short, just novella length, really -- but there's a great deal of shading to the work, much more to all of it than one might first suspect.
       Well worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2023

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How to Turn Into a Bird: Reviews: María José Ferrada: Other books by María José Ferrada under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author María José Ferrada was born in 1977.

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© 2023 the complete review

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