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Reviewed by Carine Engelbrecht for Readers' Favorite
Place of Many Birds by Jan Merry consists of five self-contained stories, but there are various clues and hints of possible connections. Two stories, Killing Time and Spirit of Activity, feature a cyclist, who could be the same person and might even be an older version of one of the characters in the title story. Place of Many Birds is a longer novella that takes us on a journey with Earle, his English-born mother and his older brother. Ostensibly, they are traveling from the little town of Cariboo to the city of Melbourne, but the story sidetracks down Memory Lane, covering the territory of Earle's memories of the Cariboo that lies behind them and the many stories his mother tells of the Yorkshire of her youth, as well as other dusty little towns that lie behind them. This multi-layered tale is perhaps the best developed story of the collection. In The Breakaway, a group of 19th-century agricultural students plan an outdoor excursion with unforeseen consequences. Before Winter Comes tells of the impact of a neighborly gift to a single-parent family.
Each of the stories shares a very real sense of place and an authentic, well drawn viewpoint character with a keen sense of observation as the voice to carry the unfolding. These are tales that make you feel right at home within their imaginary landscape. They recall events of a bygone era, but in such vivid detail that they manage to bring those memories back to life. They share the flavor and texture of living in Australia during the first half of the 20th century. In a way, the experience of reading A Place of Many Birds by Jan Merry is not unlike paging through a leather-bound scrapbook album full of sepia tinted portraits and other keepsakes capturing yesterday's joys, sorrows and missed opportunities.