Categorized | Features

Review: The Hummingbird, by Stephen Kiernan

Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse, taking care of terminally ill retired professor Barclay Reed. Deborah’s husband Michael has recently returned from his third deployment to Iraq, where he was a sniper. The faces of those he killed haunt him. He has bad PTSD.
Professor Reed is cantankerous, which might be expected from a man who has only weeks to live, and Deborah can make some sort of human contact with him only by agreeing to read aloud to him from his book “The Sword,” in which he tells the story of Ichiro Soga, a Japanese pilot who flew a Yokosuba E14, launched from an I-25 submarine just off the Oregon coast in 1942, over the mainland and dropped four incendiary bombs into the forest.
There is a complex story behind the book, involving plagiarism, ethics and a professional life in ruins. Reed’s last wish is that as Deborah reads the book, she will come to believe it is a true story, written by Reed himself and based on his own research.
Soga’s bombing raid story appears in separate chapters, interspersed throughout the book. It could be a sidebar of sorts, or perhaps a sub-plot. But as things progress it becomes increasingly obvious that Kiernan has a plan . . . a good one. Soga’s 1942 bombing raid story impinges just a little on Deborah’s relationship with her husband, who is in desperate need of help. Professor Reed, near death but still thinking at his old professorial speed, begins to gently point to bits of the story that just might have some meaning for his care-giver and her husband.
Soga was a warrior, but he learned to come to terms with his actions in the war and also with the people he bombed. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Human kindness. The insights gained from Soga’s story gradually come to focus in Deborah’s life . . . and her marriage. Kiernan manages to weave the 1942 war story into the lives of his three protagonists and to make it the moving force that brings resolution to the problems that had seemed insurmountable.
This is only Kiernan’s second book, so he could be around for a long time. Let’s hope so.