Read A Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nunez Online


A young woman looks back to the world of her immigrant parents: a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother. Growing up in a housing project in the 1950s and 1960s, she escapes into dreams inspired both by her parents' stories and by her own reading and, for a time, into the otherworldly life of ballet. A yearning, homesick mother, a silent and withdrawn father, the baA young woman looks back to the world of her immigrant parents: a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother. Growing up in a housing project in the 1950s and 1960s, she escapes into dreams inspired both by her parents' stories and by her own reading and, for a time, into the otherworldly life of ballet. A yearning, homesick mother, a silent and withdrawn father, the ballet--these are the elements that shape the young woman's imagination and her sexuality. It is a story about displacement and loss, and about the tangled nature of relationships between parents and children, between language and love....

Title : A Feather on the Breath of God
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780312422738
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 192 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Feather on the Breath of God Reviews

  • Kasey Jueds
    2019-02-25 21:53

    What I kept thinking over and over as I read this book is how incredibly true it feels--as if I were looking right through the words to the author's deepest heart. Late in the book, there is a description of a certain kind of sex feeling like not only one's clothes, but one's skin, had been peeled away--and the writing here seemed to me to have the same absolutely naked quality. Spare and strange and heartful, and unusually structured--in a way it's like four separate essays (on the speaker's father, mother, her study of ballet, and an intense love affair) that the author makes no overt efforts to link, but they are deeply connected... not only through the obvious fact that the speaker's the same throughout, but through a particular vision and use of language and way of being in the world. I loved this book; so glad I own it and didn't get it from the library; it's one that makes me happy just because I know it's physically there, and ready to be picked up again any time.

  • Leah Shafer
    2019-02-28 03:00

    My friend Catherine and I recently joined The Writer's Garret here in Dallas and saw the two-hour interview with Rick Moody at Theatre Three last month. It was tremendously enjoyable--his perspective on the craft of writing had me furiously scribbling notes in the dark. But I was sad not to have read any of his novels beforehand (The Black Veil, The Diviners, The Ice Storm). I imagine it would have made the experience all the richer. On the 27th of this month, Sigrid Nunez is being interviewed and I've got a pile of her books on my nightstand and am power reading like mad so I'll be better prepared. A Feather on the Breath of God was her first book, written in 1996, and it is deeply introspective, the story of a woman looking back on her girlhood life as a daughter of a nail-her-on-the-cross-already German mom and a workaholic Chinese-Panamanian dad. She explores the intricacies of their personalities, dissects them with insight and precision. They met shortly after V-E Day in WWII, married, and moved to projects in Brooklyn. He works two and three jobs at a time, waiting tables in Chinatown, appearing little, and saying even less. Her mother is drama in a dirndl, a Teutonic package of passions, remorses, and resentments. The scope is small, but her explorations within that space are deep. She is detached, almost clinical, in her assessments. This girl's life was not easy, but she distances from the neuroses and problems that were its legacy: Her inability to attach to men, anorexia, fear of marriage. I am so excited to read more by Nunez. Next on the list is Mitz; it's short and I started yesterday: The biography of the monkey that lived with Virginia and Leonard Woolf! I am charmed already.

  • Phoebe
    2019-03-06 22:39

    My favorite of Sigrid's books!(I can call Sigrid by her first name because I took a class with her ten years ago at Smith College and plan to keep bragging about it for the rest of my life.)She has this non-linear, mostly plotless style that takes some getting used to, but her punctuation is amazing (seriously! it inspires me!) and her prose is just so lovely.

  • Daniel Clausen
    2019-02-24 05:03

    Title: Voices of Authority in Sigrid Nunez’s Feather on the Breath of GodHonest. Beautiful. Unique. Sigrid Nunez’s Feather on the Breath of God is the closest thing I've found to a perfect novel. I suspect I will read this book several times, reverse engineer it, and try to divine its secrets. Some of the elements are easy to recognize. The book emphasizes fallible memory, fragmentation, free association, and montage--styles that resist attempts to totalize meaning. In my experience, many great novels walk that fine line between meaning and disorder. The writer teases meanings and coherence while presenting an impossible array of loose threads. Above all, a great novel should be honest. This novel often feels like pure honesty. One aspect of the novel in particular stands out. In each of the four sections of her book, the author brings in authoritative voices: musicians, writers, therapists; Hank Williams, Freud, T.S. Eliot, but also a female therapist. Each of these voices holds out some promise that the narrator/author can find an authoritative meaning that brings order to her world. These voices punctuate the four sections of her book where she struggles to understand her Chinese Panamanian father, her German mother, come to terms with her life as a ballet dancer, and find meaning in adulthood. However, where these voices are supposed to provide order and meaning, they mostly end up intensifying her sense of fragmentation and longing. The first section of the novel, involves the narrator in a search for meaning in her memories of her father. Her father is a mystery to her. As a man of Chinese descent who grew up in Panama and moved to the US, he works hard jobs and long hours for his family but is emotionally distant from them. He is a man mysteriously devoid of connections--memories, photos, and relatives. The narrator’s mother, Christa, tells her that her father used to like the country-folk singer Hank Williams: “Yes, of course I remember. It was Hank Williams. He played those records over and over. Hillbilly music. I thought I’d go mad” (p. 27). The thought of her father, a Chinese immigrant with limited understanding of the English language, finding joy in “Hillbilly music” makes for a sentimental but effective ending to the section. The section closes with a list of Hank Williams songs: “Here are the names of some Hank Williams songs” the narrator says: “Honky Tonkin’. Ramblin’ Man. Hey, Good Lookin’. Lovesick Blues. Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do. Your Cheatin’ Heart. (I heard that) Lonesome Whistle. Why Don’t You Mind You Own Business. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. The Blues Come Around. Cold, Cold Heart. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You.” (p. 28) The list is the last word on her father in the first section. As a reader, one would expect the song titles to reveal something important about the narrator’s father, something perhaps that was overlooked in the chapter. The list never fulfills this expectation. Instead, it accomplishes the opposite. The narrator presents the list haphazardly, without attempting to explain why she has listed these songs and not others, or why she has put them in this order, or even found them important enough to list. Rather than explain a man whose life has been a mystery to her, the titles only serve to deepen the contradictions and incoherence of her fragmented memory/representation of him. There seems to be a desperate nature to her listing of the song titles, a stretching for wholeness or completeness that does not exist. The second part of the novel deals with the narrator’s troubled relationship with her mother, Christa. Christa is in many ways the opposite of the father, a confident authoritative figure who is proud of her German roots. The narrator’s relationship with her mother, though very different than her relationship with her father, is no less conflicted. The narrator questions her loveless marriage, her nostalgia for Germany, and her perpetual cultural limbo. The section ends with a saying by Freud: “Freud says the most important event in a man’s life is the death of his father” (94). This time authoritative figures is Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, but also a theorist known for his fixation with the phallus and its many meanings. His statement is quickly qualified by the next phrase to come: “Oh, Mother” (94), which ends the second part. What are we to make of the narrator’s response “Oh, Mother”? Is it a rebuttal of Freud? As readers we are left to ponder what is missing, what remains loose and unruly--and Freud’s own shortcomings to bring meaning to the world. One key to answering these questions can be found in her interaction with the world of ballet in part three. Within the confined world of the dance hall the author/narrator is able to find contentment she has never experienced before. And while the act can be seen as a way of transcending the problems of the real world, it can also be seen as a decision to leave a confusing and contradictory world for one that is more concise and ordered—a world that has a structure and an end: “When I first heard that there existed a book called Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing, I thought it had to be about this: singleness of mind, of passion, of purpose; one love, one reason for being.” (p. 116). With the “singleness” she experiences in ballet, what she loses is the fragmentation of her life outside of the dance hall. Instead of her hybrid racial identity, she exists simply as a will in pursuit of artistic and bodily perfection. The logic of the dancehall momentarily pushes problematic elements, such as race, gender, and poverty to the margins. Her obsession--which demands so much from her body and spirit--only recognizes one principle: “Work as hard as you can. Make it beautiful.” (116; italics in the original). However, once she is outside the dancehall, questions about gender and society emerge again: “But why don’t men go on point? And why does the woman in Serenade have to die?” (116).The third part finishes again with the words of another person, this time T.S. Eliot. “I want to get down something T.S. Eliot said: Human beings are capable of passions that human experience can never live up to” (118). Again, we see the presence of an outside voice, and again, that voice is a male (first Hank Williams, then Freud, and now T.S. Eliot). However, this time the quotation does not seem entirely disconnected or sarcastic. T.S. Eliot’s meditation on the tragic nature of life seems to frame not only the section, but the entire novel. The narrator’s father grasping at air as his last act can be seen as a physical manifestation of Eliot’s sentiment, as can the narrator/author’s own romance with a troubled Russian immigrant, or even the author/narrator’s own wish to be a ballerina. However, this quote seems at best a haphazard characterization of her experience, and we see from the context of the scene that the narrator/author is reaching desperately for an explanation: “I will sit there all through the night, I will smoke all the cigarettes, and in the morning I will cross the courtyard to answer questions about the tragic sense of life” (118). Night, the smoking of many cigarettes, and the final answering after these acts signify the very real tragedy of understanding traumatic experience: mainly, the impossibility of making pain meaningful.In the fourth and last part of the book, the authoritative voice is at last a female. The authoritative voice comes toward the end, but is not the final word as are other statements throughout the novel. Her female therapist says:“A background like that, no wonder you’re here. You don’t know who you are!” Then she added, more to herself than to me: “Still, there must have been something good back there: It must have come from the father.”” (178).The statement does not take the form of an explanation, but rather, a judgment of her past. This judgment helps build an animosity toward the therapist which later delegitimizes her very valid questions about her motivation for dating a troubled Russian immigrant. Because of her past experiences with experts, authorities, and other subjects who are “supposed to know” the narrator/author has given up on the possibility that an authority will ever provide satisfactory answers. By this time, the reader has either consciously or unconsciously come to realize that the understanding the narrator/author desires is not a kind of theoretical structuring or rationalization of her experience, but rather, empathy, identification, and validation. What are we to make of these authoritative voices? Do they simply point to the failings of authority and power? Are they simply ironic markers for a journey with too many unruly elements? Whether it is Hank Williams, Freud, T.S. Eliot, or the female therapist, in each case there is an honest search for answers. As the narrator/authors says, “One wants a way of looking back without anger or bitterness or shame. One wants to be able to tell everything without blaming or apologizing” (93). Like great novel should, its many fragments add up to something more--something that both suggests completeness and that resists authoritative explanations. It resists the comforting words of experts, authorities, and others who are supposed to have the answers. Instead of an authoritative explanation, what we are left with is honest memories, pure emotion, and the therapeutic act of expression.

  • Susan Carpenter
    2019-03-21 01:57

    The writing of "A Feather on the Breath of God" is as wonderful as the promise held out by its title: clear, deceptively simple language, with shining threads and dark threads woven through the story of the daughter of two immigrants growing up in New York City. There are four sections: the first is about her father, born in Panama of a Chinese family, never fluent in English, showing love chiefly by his incessant toil. The second section examines the mother, a German immigrant who loves reading and is angry about most other circumstances of her life. The third delves into the narrator's deep infatuation with ballet, and the fourth reveals a disastrous passionate love affair. How can such a book, filled with straitened circumstances and hurtful relationships, be lovely? That's the beauty of it.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-01 01:40

    This is a beautifully written book. It focuses on the experiences of a daughter of immigrants and the various sections of the book illuminate the experiences of a biracial woman with indepth portraits of her parents, who nonetheless remain a mystery to her. I loved this author's book The Last of Her Kind.

  • Elli (The Bibliophile)
    2019-03-04 04:56

    A well written novel that felt very personal, as if the narrator was baring her soul to the reader.

  • Alejandra Rodriguez
    2019-02-22 02:01

    Just perfect, poignant, and painful prose. I don't think I'll ever be the same after reading this book. Even the page numbering format is perfect.

  • Diana Striedieck
    2019-03-10 21:57

    Feather on the Breath of God beguiled me. Sigrid Nunez is an intuitive writer, who paints immersive portraits of her characters by focusing on seemingly small, but consequential details. Undercurrents of rejection course throughout the story, caused in large part by a cultural unmooring. This novel is an original take on what it’s like to be a mixed child of two immigrant parents who never really assimilated to America, but could no longer fit back in their respective home countries. All along, I wanted to know how this experience impacted the protagonist, and what type of woman she would become. Towards the end, the pain was pouring out of the pages. Nunez’s prose is clean yet emotionally evocative, methodically capturing the complexities of family relationships, and its effect on our choices of romantic partners.

  • Emma Filtness
    2019-02-25 01:55

    Reads like a memoir, fragmented yet insightful. Explores culture, heritage and intergenerational conflict.

  • Justin Evans
    2019-03-17 05:05

    This was really disappointing; I loved Salvation City, which was poised, objective, intelligent and clear. This is rapturous, deeply personal, irrational and unreflective. Now, it just so happens that the book pushes almost every button on my pad of "Things I Dislike." A brief list would include:* attempts to use language as a metaphysical analogy for everything.* unnecessary mentions of The Body as metaphysical analogy for everything. * belief that the real problems of the world are problems of identity and respect. * use of the historical present tense (note to all authors: English is not French). * switching from historical present to past tense and back again for no apparent reason. * first person narrator.* unironic aphorisms. * name-dropping. * failure to achieve any distance between first-person narrator, implied author, and author.* tied to said failure, a fair degree of tiresome self-pity. * literary sex. * worst of all, sentences lacking verbs that are meant to signify INTENSITY, but just signify laziness. There's no narrative to speak of, and no character development really, and not much in the way of revelation or interest. That said, the material of the book would probably interest most people. It couldn't be any more '90s hip if it tried: the child of an immigrant couple struggles with memories of her Panamanian/Chinese distant father and German but not-quite-fully-de-Nazified mother, her identity, her gender, art, the body, language and New York. The middle sections of the book were easily the best: the first focuses on the daughter's relationship with her mother, and is quite moving. The second focuses on her experiences as a ballerina, and would have made a great short story. But the opening section about her father, and the closing section about a relationship with a Russian immigrant, are unenlightening and dull. I'm open to the idea that heterosexual women would get more out of it than I did, but my main thought at the end of the book was something like: suck it up, get better friends, stop hating yourself and your parents for no reason, and for God's sake don't criticize your Russian boyfriend's mis-use of the past conditional if you can't even keep your own tenses consistent. As I said, I was very disappointed. Next time I get the urge to read Nunez, I'll just re-read Salvation City.

  • liz
    2019-03-11 20:36

    The protagonist's father is Chinese but from Panama, her mother is German. They can barely communicate with each other, but somehow managed to fall in love in Germany, then out of love in Brooklyn. The book traces her life as she tries to interpret each of her parents' broken English, and her later romance with a Russian-speaking Ukranian gangster immigrant. I enjoyed it because of how it examines how language influences experience, as well as ideas of where home is, and what solace we can find there. A quick read, but rewarding.There are times when I seem to remember my mother as though she were a landscape rather than a person. Those blue eyes filled the entire sky of my childhood.About being mugged he says, "I can do same." The same? My heart is pounding. Does that mean he's going to rob people in his cab? He laughs. "No, of course not in cab." "But--you're going to mug people." "No, don't worry. I am not going to do it. I am not stupid. I don't have green card." "You need a green card to mug people." A bigger laugh. "I don't want to be deported."I give it a try: Doesn't he think that the men who robbed him were wrong, and that he was wrong to rob other people, and that the world would be a better place if we didn't do this sort of thing unto one another?But Vadim has his own spin on the golden rule: Today I am unlucky. Tomorrow it is someone else's turn to be unlucky.

  • Amy
    2019-03-06 02:35

    I picked this up at thhis year's BookFest-- what a treat to read! I'm not sure I could describe it well, but when reading, I was absorbed in each separate section and character. I picked up the author's second book, as well, and look forward to reading that, soon.From the PublisherIn this profoundly moving novel, a young woman looks back to the world of her immigrant parents: a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother who meet in post-war Germany and settle in New York. Growing up in a housing project in the 1950s and 1960s, the narrator escapes into dreams inspired both by her parents' stories and by her own reading and, for a time, into the otherworldly life of ballet. A yearning, homesick mother, a silent and withdrawn father, the ballet - these are the elements that shape the young woman's imaginations and sexuality. Years later, while working as an English instructor, she begins an affair with a Russian immigrant. As his English improves, he binds her to him by becoming more and more articulate in expressing his feelings for her, but at the same time frightens her with every new revelation about his own troubled past.

  • Avd.Reader
    2019-03-05 00:05

    How do you come to terms with emotionally detached parents, in this case a Panamanian-Chinese father and a German mother, who have lived through the trauma of WWII, never got the counseling they probably should have had, and who never adapted to their new life in America? Well, you will be messed up in one way or another. I found this book insightful, sensitive, and funny. It highlights how one generations language barriers and cultural differences in temperament and outlook on life can cause confusion and insecurity in the next. Nunez tells her engaging story about cultural identity and personal relationships in episodes and anecdotes. This was absolutely brilliant!

  • Allison
    2019-03-13 23:45

    A random pick from my public library shelves. This fictionalized account of the author's life as a multiracial girl growing up in NYC housing. The first 3/4 of the book were wonderful meditations on her father, her mother and herself. The fourth part, about her adulterous affair with a cab driver from Odessa, held no interest and offered no insights. That said, the writing throughout is beautiful - both spare and richly detailed, much like Ms. Nunez, a former ballerina, herself. If you like good writing, I recommend this book If you are looking to be inspired by the life of a child of immigrants, this is not the book for you. The ending is dark and abrupt.

  • Nandadevi
    2019-03-05 03:04

    A tumbling out story that has no middle and no end. except the exhaustion of the writer and the reader. The experience and the rawness is genuine, and what one wishes for here is not packaging or sanitising, but some kind of story that doesn't become more fractured as it becomes more recent - as if the damage and hurt or the nearest recollections makes them too painful to record, or too difficult to tease apart. This is a writer of considerable talent, but an even more talented writer might have interwoven the recent and the distant memoirs, leavening one with the other, and thereby brought the reader to a more fulfilling conclusion, or any conclusion at all.

  • Shannon
    2019-03-08 20:49

    Sigrid Nunez speaks both to the common experience of the immigrant, the challenges and joys and prejudices he or she faces, as well as her own unique position in her family, in the projects, in her sexuality, and in her identity. With beautiful descriptions about her relationships with her father and mother, as well as her love for and self-expression in the art of ballet, and finally the provocative and eye-opening relationship she carries with a Russian immigrant studying English as a second language, this book serves as an insightful glimpse into what I perceived to be one writer's multifaceted definition of life and love in America.

  • Justin
    2019-02-21 22:56

    The story of a half Chinese, half German girl growing up in the NYC projects. It's broken up into 4 sections; the first two, covering the lives of her parents and her relationship, are excellent; the third, about her time as a ballet dancer, was kind of boring, but at least it was short; the final section is about her relationship with a Russian junkie/pimp/cab driver--it's hilarious and poignant.I'm definitely not the target audience for this book, but I enjoyed it. The writing's lyrical, and the character arc is satisfying. It's a good read.

  • Kathleen
    2019-03-17 01:51

    This book was okay, though the author's view of relationships between men and women sometimes irked me. The last line though is just terrible, she's speaking with her therapist who is a woman, the therapist says something, and she thinks to herself, this woman is ugly, of course she doesn't understand what it's like to be "ravished." Maybe there's something I'm not getting here, but what the hell.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-01 23:43

    Sigrid Nunez always writes beautifully. She is especially good at evoking the sense of what it is like to observe another person and to try to understand them. Through sharply observed details, she paints a portrait of her rather painful relationships with her parents, a lover, and her own body. It's a sad, poetic book that skillfully replicates the experience of being privy to someone else's innermost thoughts and feelings.

  • Catherine Bliss
    2019-03-02 01:50

    Sigrid Nunez speaks well for how it feels to be a girl and a growing woman. It's surprising to me that she is older than my mother, but describing mental and emotional states that even I can relate to. Sometimes her feminist and literary references date her and sometimes her language is too stuffy for what she's trying to convey, but she's a very down to earth writer. I had that problem where I kept thinking this was nonfiction.

  • Brandylien
    2019-03-02 23:56

    Though this book is classified as a novel, there are a number of autobiographical elements to it (which is not unlike many novels), most identifiably the issue of being mixed race. The narrative is elegant and sparse, much like that of Marguerite Duras's The Lover. The style lives up to and mimics the title.

  • Ruth
    2019-02-18 04:39

    This is a novel about a woman growing up in NY with immigrant parents: the dad is half-Chinese and half-Latin American and the mom is German. It's a coming-of-age story about her relationship with her parents, with ballet, and later, with her Russian immigrant lover. Solid but not mind-blowing. I wonder if it's at all autobiographical, coming from an author by the name of Sigrid Nunez?

  • cory
    2019-02-24 02:04

    she's an amazing author. all the books of hers i've read are kind of like memoirs, this one's the closest to her own life, i think. she addresses deep shit in a really matter-of-fact way, and she's got a great ability to get in the heads of lots of different kinds of people. i'll pretty much read anything by her at this point.

  • Lauren
    2019-02-20 20:45

    I found the first part (of four) of this book amazing. I didn't think that the following three sections, while very good, could hold up to the power of the first part. That's why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. But overall it was a beautiful and insightful book, highly recommended. Also, it's a very quick read.

  • Misha
    2019-02-27 21:46

    I loved this book both times I read it. It's about a Chinese-German young woman who has an affair with a Russian immigrant with a seedy past. She evokes her parents and childhood so poetically. I think it's semi-autobiographical. Sadly, the library where I work doesn't own it anymore, otherwise I would be talking it up!

  • Larissa
    2019-03-09 22:02

    This book instantly pulls you in with the first chapter about the authors father. Nunez is able to build a story of a man she barely knows based on her faulty memories, unknown answers and collaged information. The story continues with a look at her mother and then finally at herself. I look forward to reading more from this writer.

  • Filipa Calado
    2019-02-19 20:57

    The voice of the narrator will trick you into thinking this is an autobiography. Which is a sign of the author's skill. This book delves into some serious psychological issues about family, immigration, and language. There are some lovely passages about dancing and the rigorous and detonated life of ballerinas. The whole novel reads like a whisper in your ear.

  • Peter Basta
    2019-03-06 20:35

    I met Sigrid at Blue Mountain Center in September of 1992, shortly after the cover story in this volume was first published. I haven't read it again in the intervening twenty years, but her prose is imprinted upon my memory. Heartbreaking.

  • Jess deCourcyHinds
    2019-03-02 22:48

    I had to start my good reads account by entering the name of the book that most inspired and excited me with its language and vision. (And yes, I'm biased, I know the author). Can't wait to teach it!