The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

Posted March 22, 2016 by Rosette in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

on September 8 2015
Pages: 325
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0062369547

From the author of the acclaimed The Curiosity comes a compelling and moving story of compassion, courage, and redemption

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborahs primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons.

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness.

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R Review

Mortality is life’s way of teaching how to love.

During my years of nursing, as most nurses, I will always remember the difficult patients. The ones that were demeaning, belligerent, the ones whose name when mentioned during report, were always followed by an “ugh.”  Nurses take a lot of the brunt when the families and patients are frustrated and scared. They are the ones they look to for most of the shift when needing information, medication, care. As much as we love the doctors, their presence is often quick and fleeting during rounds. But I remember the more difficult cases, because that’s where I feel I made the biggest impact.  Belligerence is often a front for fear, whether is be from lack of control or difficulties with a diagnosis. Family members react this way as well from time to time.

If it feels like I am writing a column about the attributes of the nursing profession, I guess I am.  The Hummingbird is poignant and compassionate novel about the life of  hospice nurse, Deborah. Throughout the novel she chronicles her journey of the many people she cared for through the years. Her next assignment is an intelligently eccentric professor slowly dying of kidney cancer. He has been through three agencies and has fired two caregivers within her own agency. So Professor Barclay has little choice but to cooperate with Deborah.  The initial few visits were awkward and somewhat disappointing.  But eventually he opens up to her enough to read his life’s work, The Sword. She reads it out loud to the professor and she is expected to give her opinion on its accuracy and authenticity. Little by little, Professor Barclay abides her care and comes to tolerate and even welcome her presence. She realizes that a lot can be learned by this grouchy man.

Meanwhile on the home front, Deborah is dealing with her husband Michael’s PTSD. Three times deployed to Iraq, he was utilized as a sharp shooter. Each time he came home, he became a different man, with an increasing indifference towards his wife. She calls him “lover” even though they have not been intimate for over a year. He has road rage, nightmares, fear of loud noises, animals, and days which he  no longer wants to exist. Although unloaded, his rifle seems always present, almost like a security blanket. But she loves this man with every fiber of her being, and she is not one who takes her vows lightly. I was so emotionally invested with this novel that I stayed up late into the night reading and finishing  it.

Professor Barclay and Deborah help each other through his final days. He offers advice with Michael, and she continues to read about Ichiro Soga, the Japanese soldier that dropped a bomb on Oregon. The character is fictional, but the story is true. Through Soga, Deborah takes away tools to help her husband survive. The act of forgiveness, and how to deal with the atrocities that Michael had partaken and witnessed.

I do admit, this is not my usual genre. I love tales that take me away from reality. But it seems as I grow older, I find that realistic novels offers gifts of wisdom and meaningful perspective. If anything, you gain invaluable empathy.

This was easily a 5 star novel.


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