How to Turn Into a Bird by María José Ferrada
After years of hard work in a factory outside of Santiago, Chile, Ramón accepts a peculiar job: to look after a Coca-Cola billboard located by the highway. And it doesn’t take long for Ramón to make an even more peculiar decision: to make the billboard his new home.
Twelve-year-old Miguel is enchanted by his uncle’s unusual living arrangement, but the neighborhood is buzzing with gossip, declaring Ramón a madman bringing shame to the community. As he visits his uncle in a perch above it all, Miguel comes to see a different perspective, and finds himself wondering what he believes—has his uncle lost his mind, as everyone says? Is madness—and the need for freedom—contagious? Or is Ramón the only one who can see things as they really are, finding a deeper meaning in a life they can’t understand from the ground?
When a local boy disappears, tensions erupt and forgotten memories come to the surface. And Miguel, no longer perched in the billboard with his uncle, witnesses the reality on the ground: a society that, in the name of peace, is not afraid to use violence. With sharp humor and a deep understanding of a child’s mind, How to Turn Into a Bird is a powerful tale of coming of age, loss of innocence, and shifting perspectives that asks us: how far outside of our lives must we go to really see things clearly?
I don’t think I “got” this book, but I still didn’t mind reading it. I ended it feeling pretty bemused and wondering why? in a general way. This was a strange book for me in a few ways.
I had a physical copy, and it was a special printing in hardcover from Aardvark book club. I assume because it wasn’t published that way originally, it led to the oddity of having an extremely generous amount of blank space on each page. The margins were enormous on all 4 sides of the text, and when that combined with a poignantly short paragraph or chapter of only a few sentences, I had a full sized page with about eight words on it. Then it would be a full blank page, and the start of a new chapter. This actually worked really well for the mood of the book in some ways, since it was all about space and freedom and solitude, and the physicality of the words reflected that.
It was also a strange story itself. So much of it was metaphorical or symbolic, and I’ll be honest that a lot of it went right over my head. I didn’t mind so much though, because it was an interesting experience to observe nonetheless. I felt like a side character.
Since I also read a translated version of the original, I’m also unsure how much might have been lost or altered in translation. Often the word choice or entire framing of a sentence would stop me and make me think about it because of how it affected the meaning of the moment to use a word or write it in that exact way. I’ve decided to just trust that the translator is really good at their job, because it enhanced my time in the book for sure. But still, I’m a bit…
5 thoughts on “Review: How To Turn Into a Bird by Maria Jose Ferrada (translated to English)”
but can you turn into a bird now, did you learn the technique
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lol I guess I’ll have to give it a try! Now to find a billboard somewhere warm…
This does sound like an interesting read, though, and one that made you think!
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It did indeed! It wasn’t oppressive like I sometimes find books that aren’t straightforward so it was still easy to enjoy