Author: Grace Mattioli
Category: Family Saga, Drama, Literary Fiction, Book Review
Part family drama and part self-actualization story, this is about Donna Greco, who in her teens, subscribes to a conventional view of success in life—and pushes her freewheeling, artistic brother, Vincent to do the same. However, he remains single, childless, and subsists in cramped apartments. She harbors guilt for her supposed failure until she discovers a sketch-book he’d made of his life, which prompts her own journey to live authentically.
The Bird that Sang in Color is a generational family saga told from the first person perspective, beginning with teenage Donna, one of six siblings, and ranging from 1970 up to 2012.
Donna has her own set ideas of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment, and she’s worried her big brother Vincent isn’t making the most of his life. She does her best to encourage Vincent to aim higher but with little to no success. He’s happy with his music and art, not motivated to blend in or want a conventional lifestyle.
He didn’t care so much about what society says about how you should live your life. He didn’t look to the outside for happiness. He knew the limitations of the outside world that is. He lived from the inside. He was a painter, a scholar, and a musician. His paintings never hung in any galleries. His name isn’t in any scholarly publications, and he never performed for any audiences. He didn’t have to. He knew the real joy and richness that came from learning and creating, and that was enough for him.
Donna and Vincent were very close and remained so as time went on. Although Vincent obtained a philosophy degree he hadn’t pursued a career and doesn’t hanker after a nice house, a family or any of the usual material trappings. He’s happy as he is, which Donna finds hard to accept. She, on the other hand, aspires to all these things and sets out to achieve them only to find they don’t guarantee happiness at all.
I liked the way Grace Mattioli structured the story, omitting several years in between each chapter so all the details are relevant to the story. We are witness to Donna’s life in stages; home life, college, marriage and children, the good and not so good, without unnecessary padding. Until eventually, Donna realises, with the help of Vincent’s book of art work charting his life and the things he loved, the key to happiness isn’t what she originally thought.
A complex and poignant story, with characters that come alive on the page, it also addresses societal issues such as alcoholism. The siblings grew up in a large Italian family which was quite dysfunctional, and although they were all very different the love and support for each other was evident all the time. Reading Donna’s viewpoint sometimes came across a little like a journal which made it all the more realistic. I enjoyed the read very much.
I chose to read and review The Bird that Sang in Color based on a digital copy kindly supplied by the author.
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Grace Mattioli is the author of three novels: “Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees,” “Discovery of an Eagle,” “The Bird that Sang in Color.” She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and her three cats. She has worked as a librarian for several years and has been writing creatively since she was a child.