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By William Wharton

Original Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Current Publisher: Vintage Books (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

Dorianne Laux writes:

Birdy, by William Wharton, aka Albert William du Aime, born on Nov. 7, 1925, in Philadelphia

William Wharton died in Encinitas, California in 2008 at the age of 82. Like many of our citizens, he went into the hospital for a blood pressure problem and died there of an infection he contracted while hospitalized. So much for health care in this country.

Wharton’s first novel, Birdy, written when he was 53, is somewhat autobiographical in the sense that Wharton himself was fascinated by birds, specifically canaries, and kept hundreds of them since the age of 17.

Birdy is a poet’s novel: obsessive, imagistic, impressionistic, dream-like, lyrical, private, haunted and hypnotically specific, down to the bird’s eye which equals the weight of its brain. Whole passages sing and sway and sweep the world away like so much fine dust. We come to love these damaged boys, one whose language is simple, limited, almost crude, and the other, virtually mute, who somehow manage to convey the struggle to remain human in the face of human cruelty and brutality. “Before you know it, if you’re not too careful, you can get to feeling sorry for everybody and there’s nobody left to hate.”

Compassionate, sensitive to the complexities of the human mind, comprehending of the individual, this is a book about communication at the basic level, maybe what it was like at the brute dawn of human speech.

Dorianne Laux is the award-winning author of four books of poetry, most recently, Facts About the Moon (W.W. Norton, 2005). She was a National Book Award poetry judge in 2002.


ISBN: 9780679734123

Fiction (First Novel) Finalists that Year:

  • Terry Davis for Vision Quest
  • Stratis Haviaras for When the Tree Sings
  • Philip F. O'Connor for Stealing Home
  • Alan Saperstein for Mom Kills Kids and Self

Fiction Judges that Year: Not available

The Year in Literature:

  • The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:  

  • William Wharton was the pen name of the author Albert William Du Aime.
  • Birdy was his first novel and the work for which he is best known.
  • He was over fifty years old when it was published.
  • Alan Parker directed a 1984 film version starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine.

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