Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

As a prolific reader and conversationalist around books, I often get recommendations and I’ll admit I rarely get to many of them. BUT when a young college student texted me about a book she just finished for her Queer and Trans Religion class, I immediately put a hold on it at the library and read it as soon as it arrived.  

Thankfully, that beautifully gracious college student who read a book and thought of her pastor was right, it “was so so good” and I was not disappointed in my quick actions or this story.  The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar is a modern take of the inner life and struggles of a young person in New York as they grow into themselves by unearthing their family history and the various griefs endured due to migration and social expectation.  

Joukhadar’s lyrical prose offers an emotive experience for the reader as the protagonist wrestles with identity, love, joy and the inescapable pain of daily life.  It was easy to get lost in the almost “stream of consciousness narration,” but not in a bad way.  I got lost in an all-encompassing, fully immersed into the protagonist’s world and emotions sort of way.  It was sometimes difficult for me to know where my inner monologue and emotions and that of the protagonists’ differentiated.  To absorb and stay present I had to read whole chapters or I lost the full experience. 

The diverse perspectives explored across, generation, gender, race and experience in this work is refreshing and honest.  I did struggle identifying the voices of the two main protagonists. Their inner dialogue, though one was written as a diary, sounded similar and perhaps that was intentional, indicative of the blending of their stories.  I also found myself lost in some of the bird imagery and relationships. And let me just say, there are a lot of birds in this book and the metaphor of freedom, migration, winged-ness all comes through beautifully, but for this reader, they also came across a bit heavy handed, but again that may have been an artistic choice in deference to the characters’ obsessiveness with ornithology and ornithological art.

Bottom line, it was a wonderful read and a great story that should be read, heard and shared more often, so go ahead and pick it up, unless you don’t like birds and then maybe not…(Haddi, that means you 😉)

 

Happy reading everyone!
Hannah