Bird
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Bird

Sophie Cunningham

To her lovers and friends, Anna Davidoff was a mystery. Beautiful, charismatic, irresponsible yet disarming; famous, in a way, but ultimately unknowable. To her daughter, she is no less an enigma even now, thirty years after her death. Of course Ana-Sofia knows the stories of Anna’s unlikely transformations. How the young post-war refugee from a devastated Soviet Union became a Hollywood starlet, a muse to jazz greats, a friend of the Beats - and along the way a heroin addict. How later, ordained as a Buddhist nun, she died alone in a Himalayan cave at the age of forty-three. The stories, too, are famous. But now Ana-Sofia is the same age Anna was when she died. Successful, content, single in New York City and hopeful of new love. And Anna has begun to haunt her. Sophie Cunningham’s spellbinding new novel is an exquisite depiction of the equivocal bond between mother and daughter against the traumas and social upheavals of the mid-twentieth century.

Review

Who was Anna Davidoff? On the anniversary of her death, Ana-Sofia expresses a long-held desire to know more about her beautiful and enigmatic mother: a woman who deserted her young daughter to become a Buddhist nun in the mountains of Tibet.

Anna’s story unfolds through the memories of her friend Eleanor and Lama Dorje Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, who recalls the wilful but soul-searching Anna of later life. Anna, a refugee from war-torn Russia, arrives in America with her emotionally damaged father and resolutely recreates herself, sweeping the impressionable Eleanor along with her. The early friendship between Eleanor and Anna is beautifully realised, following their journey into adulthood in 1950s America. But Anna’s demons don’t allow her to rest.

Spanning the last half of the twentieth century - through America, Europe and Tibet - Anna’s story unfolds, but…who is the author, and who is the hero. Each story is coloured by the narrator and it slowly becomes clear that no one really knew her: not her friends, her lovers, her drunken father, nor her Tibetan guru. Finally, Ana-Sofia returns to Tibet, hoping to make sense of the past and understand her mother’s struggle for inner-peace.

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