Where the Bird Sings Best

Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky; Alfred MacAdam, trans.
  • Review
By – March 27, 2015

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.

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Ben­jamin Abramowitz is an MFA stu­dent at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege and Fic­tion Edi­tor of the lit­er­ary mag­a­zine Con­struc­tion.

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