In tribute to The Thorn Birds and Colleen McCullough (06/01/1937-01/29/2015)

“Notes between the lines” is a series of blog posts in which I will share pieces of music and literature that I think resonate with each other.


The Thorn Birds was one of the earliest books I picked up, maybe the same age when Meggie Cleary arrived at Drogheda. I remember the book vividly. My grandmother had sewn woven cloths onto its spine, and the cover was softer and thinner than a feather. The paper was so fragile I was scared it might collide into pieces whenever turned, yet rash I actually scratched my fingers with it. And it came in 3 volumes, with the middle one missing. I’m still glad it was divided, because thankfully long novels could intimidate me no more.

And the title was just… mesmerizing. The first Vietnamese version was translated via Russian as “The song of the bird in the thorn bush”. No plural. It caught my attention immediately, because unlike the children’s books that I was exposed to at that time and age, it was enigmatic. I mean, you could kind of guess what Gulliver’s Travels or Les Miserables are about, but what does a bird has to do here? That led me to the prologue, and then the epilogue. Skipping 600+ pages didn’t help, but these two passages left me emotionally suspended. They didn’t heighten my curiosity in a “I must know how this goes and ends” way, but instead, whispered to the early-blooming sentimental side of me. In other words, if reading an epic novel such as War and Peace was a pseudo-intellectual challenge, reading The Thorn Birds would make me feel like a girl promised to the wonderland of uncovered emotions and hidden real-life meanings.

Revisiting books in the past is always a delightful experience, especially when you find your perspectives and reactions change. In my adolescent years, I didn’t enjoy the book as much, thinking the Cleary ladies were weak and desperate. Then I grew up a little bit, had my share of heartbreaks, paid my dues of passion vs. conscience. I could no longer choose sides or make bold “if that were me” statements, and I started putting myself in each and every character’s shoes. And when I got bewildered (and sometimes, pained) by doing so, I knew I had became part of their story. That was what The Thorn Birds has been to me.

But in the end. After all this time; after all the new words I’ve memorized and all the agonizing book scenes I’ve vicariously live through, there is barely another moment when a little girl first learned about the very harsh reality of “made for each other, but not meant for one another”.

This video is not an original find, but I don’t think there could be a more perfect combination.

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