Tawhida Tanya Evanson’s first novel is a stunning testament to how the grief of heartbreak can bring us back to who we are. At the core of the story, the protagonist Maya yearns for her beloved, Shams, turning inward and away from the tragedy of a love gone cold. The two embark from Vancouver on a trip around the world, only to find their relationship flagging until it finally comes apart in Paris.
Book of Wings is written in hyper-lucid vignettes only a poet of the highest order could master. Maya stumbles through dream scenes of memory and presence, grounded by the sensory aspects of her surroundings: “The footpath was strewn with pale pink rosebay, poppies and occasional mint, at times the high grasses swallowed us up along the slim, earthen upward arc like a pebbled wave.” And yet, amid the beauty, Evanson reveals how the knife of heartache can cut through the moment — and how Maya struggles, and sometimes succeeds, to hold room for both gratitude and despair.
Throughout her travels, Maya encounters strangers who are generous with their time, resources, and advice, albeit sometimes a little too friendly. Evanson captures the vigilance required to be a woman travelling alone, companionless and yet never truly solitary. Two journeys occur simultaneously: Maya’s parallel journeys to reclaim herself and to befriend those willing to light a path for her. “Visible and invisible, these journeys are meant for the perpetual moment to be met without hesitation.”
The absence of Shams becomes a gateway for Maya to endure all sides of herself: demons, darkness, and imperfections included. These aspects of her psyche creep up to greet her in the mirror, in the lost lustre of her skin, in her grey hair, and in attempts to numb herself to her grief: “There is no remedy for this pain. It is not getting easier to accept. A loss grips the throat, crushes the inside of the head, pounds at the chest.” Evanson leans in to the deep discomfort involved in facing the spectre of the past – triggers for emotional pain can be slight, memory can be insidious, and it is understandable to cling to what’s familiar, even when this causes trauma.
Book of Wings is grounded in astonishing turns of phrase. The fruit of experiences are so painful and profound they require deep reflection to reveal all the facets of meaning. Evanson operates as inflictor of wounds and healer, student and teacher. Book of Wings is more than a novel – it is a catalogue of revelation and redemption, surrender and solitude, a companion for those who choose to confront their own broken hearts. The author unravels the memory of her protagonist’s wounds, so we have the courage to heal ours.