Published by William Morrow on September 8, 2015
Source: the publisher
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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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse charged with caring for an elderly man with cancer. Barclay Reed is the 78-year-old man with kidney and liver cancer in Deb’s care; he has no family or friends and is also an expert on WWII. Michael Birch is Deb’s husband; he has been back in the US for six months after his third deployment in Iraq. He is now suffering from severe PTSD.
I was initially attracted to this book because I am a nurse by trade and also because I love history so much. I thought there could certainly be something nice within these pages to keep me entertained. But what I was not expecting was to connect with this story on so many levels: as a nurse, as a family member who has watched people that I love finish their lives with the assistance of the hospice program, as a daughter currently dealing with a parent making end-of-life decisions just like Barclay Reed had to, and as someone riveted by unknown pieces of history. I also was able to connect because I live in a military community and there is an awareness here that our military sometimes comes home profoundly affected after serving time in active duty. I truly devoured this book, but I think that if I could go back and read it again for the first time, I would read it more slowly. Perhaps on my reread, I will do just that.
Deb is a wonderful nurse. In many ways, she defines herself by her love for caretaking and by doing it well — and not only the way she takes care of her patients. Deb also is proud of the way that she takes care of her husband and her marriage. So…after her husband comes back damaged after his latest deployment, she barely knows what to do with herself. It isn’t within her power to “fix” anything for Michael at this point in his life. Nothing she says or does can make anything better for him, and their marriage and relationship sadly reflects this. Instead, she does what she does best, throwing herself into the care of the lonely Barclay Reed. In doing so, she finds that Mr. Reed may hold the keys to helping her figure out how she can help her husband.
It is a slow reveal but it is worth it.
Mr. Reed is a little bit tough to begin with, but I quickly grew to enjoy him. AND to feel deeply for him. I understood why he was such a tough guy! With mere days left and no one at his side but his hospice staff, there is so much revealed about this character. He does much to teach us about the strength and the fragility of life, I think. And Michael Birch-I also really liked his character, even more than I thought I would. Sometimes it is tough for me to get inside the head of the tough military types (just because they are so different from me), but it was quite easy in this case. This man is tortured by his time served in active duty and the things that he witnessed. Again, this character teaches us much about the strength and fragility of life.
I think that one of the best things about this book is the way that the author writes these male characters – their dialogue and conversation, the little details about their appearance and actions. I just felt like they jumped off of the pages and were so nearly tangible to me, and the entire point of them being in this book was so well known to me. For me, loving characterization so much: Barclay Reed and Michael Birch were tops. That isn’t to say that Deb Birch is not – I loved her too. A strong woman, she is. I just connected so deeply to these three and how well they worked together, with Deb being the connecting piece. The characterization really makes me wonder about the author’s previous book, which I have not had the pleasure of reading yet. And makes me curious for more.
Sidenote: I would love, love, love to listen to this book as an audiobook! I suspect that listening would have an even greater impact emotionally, as I often react more and greater to audio reading.