This review is a personal perspective on Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie, and outlines my own impressions regarding this narrative. There are no spoilers, so if you haven’t read it yet, don’t worry! If you have, I would love to hear your own reflections in the comments below!
Review by Jessica Barratt
ôtah mâcipayiw: it starts here.
Already, in the giving of this narrative, in the act of receiving this book, there was independence and difference. There was weight. Thrown to me under the starry sky, it was as if Birdie flew into my hands (or, onto my balcony) with purpose: to help in my healing. To bolster my growth. To bring clarity and memory to the places I’ve been, and to teach me patience for the woman I’m becoming.
Birdie holds a gift for all readers. For me, there was first the pleasant surprise of seeing so many places I’ve left behind–the details of an upbringing so close and familiar–through the eyes of another. Through Bernice, the narrative’s main character, I again smelled tiger lilies. I remembered the way they stained my hands with their orange and black pigments playing paint-maker, drawing patterns down my arms, across my cheeks. Through her language, I remember the Cree I grew up hearing from those at school. The songs. The drums the men played, their cries alongside the rhythm, our jingle dresses beside that. Did I look strange? The smallest, and pale, dancing a dance my ancestors thought “tribal”, perhaps even “savage?”
In this image lies my own relationship with Indigenous spirituality, mindset, and culture. I attended, like Bernice, a “christly school”, that paradoxically offered a well-rounded and deeply impactful cultural education, specifically regarding Indigenous peoples and traditions. Yet, outside of school, adults all around me said words like “injun” and “squaw”. They hated my first nations friends for their monthly money. Started going off on you about politics if you mentioned the word “treaty”.
They had a fear in them I’ve never been able to find.
Removed from that upbringing in so many ways, I have thus always secretly desired some kind of return. When you catch up with an old friend, you remember parts of your life inaccessible otherwise. Like Bernice, a part of me has been sleeping, a part that was gifted and never cultivated. A part that has been afraid to come out in the wake of learning the why behind the “othering” I’d observed when I was younger. Birdie, it seems, opens its arms and says “Welcome Back, we have always been here”. It is a text with which I can share my memories, gain access to those parts of me I thought I’d lost. It’s a little bit like finding a lost piece of home.
Reading this account, I have also found in Bernice the wanderer we all carry. In my own way, as a traveller (as one who has seen many different homes), I feel I am Bernice, finding comfort in “seeing hundreds of new people and not having a past or future with them” (Birdie 89). Through her eyes I am reminded of “the peace of no introduction, no backstory, no explanation” (Birdie 102), and almost feel myself wanting that leaving feeling, where speaking is no longer necessary, and the only thing that’s important is the go pushing you forward.
Change. Movement. Disappearance. These, too, are major themes in Bernice’s–Birdie’s–life. But unlike I have been for much of my own life, she is accepting of her shifting nature, of her ability to change. To be seen, or not seen. She is a master of silent communication, to which I have sometimes felt attuned.
In this way, Bernice has agency. Power. She can talk to the stone people. She hears the tree of life calling to her. All of these elements, together, in one resting body. She is strength, but stillness. Agitation and calm. She will come when she is ready. “She will know when she is done” (Birdie 39). Bernice thus acts as my mentor. A spirit guide to my own waking dream, showing me the way to accept this part of myself. This nature that resides within me, too.
As Bernice’s strength calms me, so does the particular strengths and flaws of the three women in the story who help Bernice rest, and the fourth who acts as her silent window to the past. These women offer themselves up as guiding voices where Bernice must remain silent, interpreting life as it comes to them. They are each able to offer her the support she needs, reminding me that I too require the support of others. I need their perspectives. I need their wisdom. How else will I come back to “my time” as Bernice does in the book?
Still, at the end of the day, I am more Lola than Bernice. There is so much in Bernice’s story that I as a white woman will never experience. As a result, there’s only so much I think I can truly understand. Nevertheless, I can at least be Lola, with her genuine and supportive heart. I can provide a house for the hurt, for the lost. I can help without understanding, making mistakes along the way. Birdie has taught me that–at least in Bernice’s eyes (in Val’s eyes, in Freda’s eyes)–Lola is doing okay.
I’m not perfect, but I’m okay. I’m trying.
I’ll keep trying.