Book Review: Prairie Ostrich
by Tamai Kobayashi
Goose Lane 2014
Avid readers who’ve read Quixotic Erotic — Tamai Kobayashi’s delectable adult stories of love and desire — are in for a very different kind of feminist treat in Prairie Ostrich, Kobayashi’s freshly hatched novel.
Although its title, Prairie Ostrich, might at first suggest a European-styled fable where animals speak and act amusingly like humans (and where there’s a moral to each fable), this novel is clearly set in the land of human animals.
The third person narrator is an eight-year old girl named, Egg. She’s the younger of two daughters in a Japanese Canadian family that breeds ostriches in the small prairie town of Bittercreek, Alberta, where, as part of the only Asian family in the community, the bookish and brilliant Egg — through no fault of her own — gets marginalized and routinely bullied at school by Martin Fisken, so Egg takes refuge and finds solace in the school library, which proves to be an incubator for her growing desire to be a writer. (Her hero is Anne Frank.)
At one point in the novel, Egg says that, if she ever became a writer, she’d describe her life this way:
Once upon a time
There was a family
They were Japanese
Not the ostriches.
Egg (Murakami) has a wry sense of humour, is sensitive, intelligent, and a questioning child, a child whose family is in an extreme situation — her older brother, Albert, is in heaven; Mama has started drinking liquor; Papa has been exiled to living in the barn among the ostriches; and there’s her older sister, Kathy, a star athlete whose up-front love for a female friend quickly makes the headlines in Bittercreek’s local newspaper.
Gentle compassion for Egg and her family, and for the people of Bittercreek, runs through Kobayashi’s nuanced prose about growing up marginalized, where gender and sexuality — just as much as race (“Everyone is different but only white people are normal. Even the television says that.” – Egg Murakami) — are definitely hot topics to be avoided.
It was a distinct pleasure to read a book in which the language has both the sleek compression of a short story and the long distance reach of a novel.
The world of feisty Egg is truly a wonder to behold, for she already knows that, “nothing is forever.” It’s
a tale told by a wise and tender-hearted child.