The novelized family history of Where the Bird Sings Best feels like a creation myth. Elaborate narratives interweave, illustrating the tumultuous trajectories of each of Jodorowsky’s parents, and the unique turns therein symbolize to Alejandro what, in life, is most meaningful. They form a tradition, in short. Alejandro’s parents’ stories unravel during formative periods of Jewish history, and they meet some of those periods’ foremost figures. “Meet” is an inadequate word, though, because their interactions are passionate, spiritual, sexual, psychedelic and edifying.
No matter where Alejandro’s predecessors are stationed at a given moment, and no matter the meandering nature of their movement forward, their homeland and their religious identity always figure as North Star. Jodorowsky writes of their lodging in Venice, “Invisible, the ghetto traversed the sky like a fleeing star and came to rest next to the Wailing Wall.” Spiritual implications aside, this mentality stabilizes the narrative experience. Alejandro’s family finds itself in dire, surreal circumstances, death threatened in any number of particularly uncomfortable ways, and yet we are stabilized by its rootedness in tradition. We feel assured that a destiny is not ending, but unfolding.
In their stories, Alejandro’s family members traverse oceans, deal Tarot cards, endure attempted rape, witness mute babies recite Torah verses, among a host of other scenes shocking to the senses. One of Alejandro’s progenitors explains, “the past was a continuous invention.” In his ancestral adventures, Jodorowsky brings to life not just the engaging story of his own family, but the mechanisms of engagement underlying story itself.
Each paragraph pulsates, threatens to burst from its burgeoning body of details. Jodorowsky relieves pressure as necessary. But time after time, he proceeds to build up and dazzle all over again. One gets the sense when reading that at no point did Jodorowsky ever come up with something and save it for later. Each individual section is endowed with Jodorowksy’s full vitality.
Benjamin Abramowitz is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College and Fiction Editor of the literary magazine Construction.