Book review: Mouthful of Birds

Mouthful of birds

Mouthful of Birds
by  Samanta Schweblin
Translated by
Megan McDowell
Riverhead Books
Originally published as Pájaros en la boca
in 2010
Genre: Literary fiction/ Short stories
240 pages


If I were young and had time, I would write a sociological study based on the titles listed for the Man Booker International 2019 longlist. Mouthful of Birds, a collection of twenty short stories, offers indeed a special cast of characters.

And the conclusion of my study would be along these lines: seeing the people and situations described in many of these titles, and especially today in Mouthful of Birds (and the worst is yet to come!), our civilization has to be really messed up.

The first story, Headlights, made me think of some Dante’s hellish circles, with women abandoned by their husbands turning into furies, and finally taking revenge on a male. There are many more upsetting male/female relationships (see Santa Claus sleeps at our house; Irman), and totally weird families (The Size of Things) evolving in the most bizarre worlds, taking unsettling decisions (for instance in Preserves, where a woman manages to reverse her pregnancy, spits the baby, and freezes it, until the adequate time for her to raise a child!).
Mouthful of Birds is actually the title of the third story, featuring Sara, who does eat mouthfuls of raw birds… She is not the only messed up character, there’s also Fredo in Heads Against Concrete, and many more!

And there are stories I really couldn’t understand at all: The Digger, Olingiris, Slowing Down.

One I liked is The Test, with a man asked to kill a dog, to test his ability of “doing worse” and enter a mafia kind group. The ambiance was totally like in Shirley Jackson’s writings.

Literary speaking, there’s a good variety of narrators, in age and social milieus, and that’s about the only redeeming element I see in this collection.

Should it be on the MB12019 shortlist? 
No thanks!

VERDICT: A very weird collection of short stories.


Any really good short stories collection I should read?


5 thoughts on “Book review: Mouthful of Birds

  1. While the writing is strong, creating images I will never forget, the fact that Samanta crossed over into irredeemable evil takes this book out of the running for me. There is horror, and wrong, and poor choices involved in many books I adore (Anna Karenina, for example) but this book is…disgusting.


    • Exactly. I was just talking about this one and Faculty of Dreams with a student of mine, who is fluent in French really, and knows a lot about literature, and he used the word “dégueulasse” as well! Disgusting


  2. I rarely read short stories, I am not much into disgusting things. I agree with your decision even without reading the book.


  3. Pingback: Man Booker International Prize 2019 shortlist | Words And Peace

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