Above Us Only Sky: A Novel

Michele Young-Stone
  • Review
By – July 1, 2015

Sur­gi­cal­ly removed and dis­card­ed as med­ical waste in her infan­cy, the wings adorn­ing Pru­dence Eleanor Vilkas at her birth will remain only as scars on her shoul­der blades until the day she meets Wheaton Jones, the boy with strange eyes who turns up two hours after Pru­dence and her moth­er move into a dilap­i­dat­ed shack in Los Vien­tos, Flori­da at the end of a long dri­ve from Nashville, where they left Prudence’s father, Fred­die. Wheaton picks up the words Pru­dence uses, counts the syl­la­bles in each sen­tence on his fin­gers, and was insti­tu­tion­al­ized short­ly after start­ing kinder­garten to cure him of visions and voic­es he alone per­ceives. Wheaton can see Prudence’s wings.

But it is not until the Old Man, Freddie’s father, comes into her life that Pru­dence learns that she is not alone. In every alter­nat­ing gen­er­a­tion of the Vilkas fam­i­ly, a woman with wings has man­aged to sur­vive anoth­er hor­rif­ic episode of Lithuania’s dif­fi­cult his­to­ry by walk­ing on foot — instead of fly­ing, though it is pos­si­ble they could — to exile and return­ing when­ev­er shift­ing sov­er­eign­ty allows them back.

As Pru­dence, now an adult, an ornithol­o­gist at the East­ern Coastal Aquar­i­um, makes her way to see the Old Man on his deathbed, the nov­el trav­els back to the sto­ry of his gen­er­a­tion, all lost to the war. Saved and hid­den by Jew­ish neigh­bors when the Red Army exe­cut­ed his par­ents and sis­ters, the Old Man — then known as Fred­er­ick — sur­vived the Sec­ond World War by uncer­e­mo­ni­ous con­scrip­tion into Ger­man mil­i­tary ser­vice, deliv­er­ing undis­closed doc­u­ments between Nazi offi­cers as a bicy­cle mes­sen­ger. His youngest sis­ter, Daina, the fam­i­ly pet, watched her sis­ters’ bru­tal mur­der before escap­ing to the for­est, where she was found by a young Russ­ian sol­dier flee­ing his unit, deter­mined to keep his winged com­pan­ion alive against her own will.

Prudence’s final jour­ney to her grand­par­ents’ home in Brook­lyn also sum­mons mem­o­ries of a fam­i­ly trip to their respec­tive home­lands when Pru­dence was six­teen, two years before Wheaton left with­out a trace and just after an acci­dent at the pier, where Pru­dence would have drowned were it not for the appari­tion of a woman with wings just like hers — a woman whose image haunts the work of an artist in Vil­nius who pho­tographed her in a Sovi­et jail cell before the KGB dis­patched of the name­less angel.

Cop­ing with a heart­break that’s last­ed her over a decade and the approach­ing loss of her beloved grand­fa­ther, Pru­dence sur­rounds her­self with the peo­ple and fig­ures who trans­formed into her fam­i­ly only at the cusp of her adult­hood, when she began to feel the weight of the van­ished wings that only her miss­ing best friend could ever see.

Relat­ed Content:

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.

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