Birds in Fall

A Novel

Birds in Fall

One fall night off the coast of a remote island in Nova Scotia, an airplane plummets to the sea as an innkeeper watches from the shore. Miles away in New York City, ornithologist Ana Gathreaux works in a darkened room full of sparrows, testing their migratory instincts. Soon, Ana will be bound for Trachis Island, along with other relatives of victims who converge on the site of the tragedy.

As the search for survivors envelops the island, the mourning families gather at the inn, waiting for news of those they have lost. Here among strangers, and watched over by innkeeper Kevin Gearns, they form an unusual community, struggling for comfort and consolation. A Taiwanese couple sets out fruit for their daughter's ghost. A Bulgarian man plays piano in the dark, sending the music to his lost wife, a cellist. Two Dutch teenagers, a brother and sister, rage against their parents' death. An Iranian exile, mourning his niece, recites the Persian tales that carry the wisdom of centuries.

At the center of Birds in Fall lies Ana Gathreaux, whose story Brad Kessler tells with deep compassion: from her days in the field with her husband, observing and banding migratory birds, to her enduring grief and gradual reengagement with life.

Kessler's knowledge of the natural world, music, and myth enriches every page of this hauntingly beautiful and moving novel about solitude, love, losing your way, and finding something like home.
  • Scribner | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743299138 | 
  • April 2006
List Price $7.99 (price may vary by retailer)

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide: Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler

Discussion Questions

1. The novel begins with a chapter told from Russell's point of view, then switches between the points of view of most of the other characters. How does this narrative structure strengthen the story? How does getting a glimpse of the airplane passengers before their crash allow the stories of the victims' family members to resonate even more?
2. Do you think the novel has a main character? Which of the characters did you relate to the most? Did you wish any of the minor characters played a bigger role?
3. The night at the inn when Ana first shares her bed with Pars she thinks "On subzero nights in the North Country, kinglets huddled together on branches. Did anyone blame them for sharing their warmth to survive" (p. 166)? What did you think of Ana and Pars's relationship? How is Ana's allusion to the kinglets a metaphor for many of the relationships in this novel?
4. Food and cooking are recurring motifs throughout the novel. Discuss the importance of food as a source of strength for the characters. Consider Kevin and Claartija's cooking lesson, Pars's story about the chicken heart, and the Liangs' bowl of fruit. How else is food used as a tool for healing and bringing people together in this novel and in real life?
5. When the victims' families go to the ocean for the first time Pars tells Ana, "It's almost offensive....How pretty the place is" see more

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About the Author

Brad Kessler
Photo Credit:

Brad Kessler

Brad Kessler’s novel Birds in Fall won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His other books include Lick Creek and The Woodcutter’s Christmas. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The Kenyon Review, and BOMB, as well as other publications. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.