The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
Trade paperback; 336 pages
The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan is an emotionally gripping very highly
recommended novel with three distinct
themes. It covers hospice care, PTSD, and a WWII Japanese bomber.
Deborah Birch is an experienced hospice nurse in Portland, Oregon,
who knows that it's not about her. She firmly believes that "every
patient, no matter how sick or impoverished, gives lasting gifts to
the person entrusted with his care." This is why she sweeps her
thumb down the back of a wooden hummingbird that a patient carved
for her before she sees a new patient. She has been called into
assist retired professor Barclay Reed, an expert on the Japanese in
WWII. Reed has terminal kidney cancer and no family. He is bitter
and tests each new nurse - and he's had many.
Deborah also believes that the measure of a vow does not lie in
upholding it when things are easy, but, rather, your commitment is
proven in times of difficulty. Her husband Michael is surely testing
the strength of her vows. He has returned from his third deployment
to Iraq a changed man. He is plagued by nightmares and anxiety. He
is distant, cold, angry, and terrified. Deborah is desperate to find
a way to help him recover and save their marriage.
After Deborah makes a breakthrough with Professor Reed, she confides
in him about the difficulties with her husband. He is sure that he
knows the secret to helping Michael. Reed feels that to help
Michael, first Deborah needs to understand the code of a warrior.
Although Reed left his academic career amid a scandal, he has
the book he was working on at his home. He has Deborah read the book
aloud to him.
The book is about WWII Japanese pilot Ichiro Soga, a descendant of
samurais, who took off from a submarine in a light plane on a
mission to bomb the forests in Oregon. Soga later atoned for the
bombing. Reed is sure that the story will give Deborah the key to
help Michael on the road to recovery. But, she must promise that she
will decide if the story is true only after reading it and without
consulting any outside sources. Between chapters of the novel is the professor's
story of Soga. As the professor worsens (and perhaps Michael too),
the story of Soga unfolds.
Kiernan does an excellent job handling the three themes. The
information and stories of past cases Deborah shares as a hospice
nurse is heartbreaking, but her commitment to her work is clear;
her patience is laudable. You can see her courage, care, and temperament demonstrated in her current job
helping Professor Reed. Then there is Michael's PTSD and Deborah's
commitment to help him. It is certainly another timely topic and a
real problem that many families face. The final subject is Soga's
story, which is based on a real person, Nabuo Fujita, and real
The quality of Kiernan's writing is admirable. The novel flows smoothly
and held my rapt attention beginning to end. But, most of all, Deborah
is a wonderful, fully realized character. I like her.
It's always a pleasure to read a book that gives a nod to the
intelligence of the reader and that is the case here. We have three very
different topics all making an appearance in this novel, and all three
are interesting and worthy of a novel in their own right. The message of
absolution and forgiveness is timeless and is integrated into all three
storylines, albeit in different ways. The two are a part of the story,
while the story of Soga is truly a story within the novel itself. It was
an effective way to integrate Soga's journey into the present daily
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this
book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.
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