Holy Parrot, by Angel A [Review]

Holy Parrot reminds me a little bit of Stranger in a Strange Land, where an exotic prophet appears out of nowhere to confront established dogma with new and wonderful ideas. Angel A’s novel is not on the level of the Robert Heinlein classic, but I enjoyed this read and recommend it, particularly for readers who have an interest in mysticism, comparative religion, and philosophy.

It’s difficult to tackle the existential collision between the scientific method and religious faith and roll it into an entertaining story. Angel A’s Holy Parrot walks the philosophical tightrope masterfully. The final payoff is a bit flat in its open-ended ambiguity and the core story sometimes meanders through the Colombian jungle more than necessary, but on the whole this is a joyful and captivating story that will certainly make you want to get to the end to see how the author resolves the puzzle.

The main story postulates the origins of a new religious movement sparked by a teenage girl named Maria and her companion Parrot named Gabriel (or Gabrielle). Marie is pregnant and claims to be a virgin. She also claims that she has heard the word of God speaking through the bird telling her that her child will be the “new Christ.” Such stories may happen anywhere, but here it’s a small fishing village in Colombia. A series of unexpected but plausible events and the appearance in town of some key players help guide Maria through the process of becoming a religious icon. As Maria’s followers grow and word spreads around the world of her philosophical statements (channeling Gabrielle) and rumors of miracles and healing, the living legend of the Holy Parrot (Loro Santo) draws in followers of all global religions to worship the new Christ. The narrative allows for the possibility that Maria’s exploits are simultaneously manipulated, fabricated, and also entirely authentic. Would we care if it’s all a show when the ultimate message is one of love and peace and tolerance?  It’s a clever method of weaving together all the elements.

To provide a counterpoint to the religious and philosophical discussions surrounding Maria and her possible deification, the story is told in the first person voice of Leo, a “science” undergraduate from Melbourne who has taken on a seemingly never-ending internship with a large pharmaceutical company. His solo assignment in the remote jungle village is to analyze the local environment to crack the code of why the residents have unusually long and healthy lives. Testing the plants, water, and general environment with sophisticated scientific lab equipment, Leo attempts to find the secret sauce that the pharma company can bottle and sell for millions. It’s an implausible assignment for an undergrad, but it provides the view from a scientist of the religious fervor that grows up around Maria. Leo gets to know Maria and becomes her friend (and possibly romantic interest?) and her protector. He also overhears conversations suggesting that, perhaps, there is a father for Maria’s unborn child. That mystery carries through the entire story.

This plot is not quite enough to sustain the whole book, and the author takes Leo and Maria around the jungle countryside and into a hospital when the child is born during long sequences where nothing much happens and the philosophical points are made over and over in different guises and circumstances. The characters discuss the religious and philosophical questions to no particular conclusion many times, but it gives the reader an opportunity to fully digest the messages. The story builds to the point where Maria must make a critical choice. The author’s decision to leave the reader to ponder all the possible truths may seem less than fully fulfilling to some.

There are some minor side issues, including a transgender friend of Maria that goes nowhere in particular. Leo faces a moral dilemma about his research and how it might change the pristine village if the big pharma company rolled in to harvest the local wonder drug if he found one. What happened to the young boy who might be the true father of Maria’ child? These side plots don’t quite hold together, but nevertheless the narrative is captivating and finding out how it’s going to end will keep every reader engaged through the finish line.

Holy Parrot reminds me a little bit of Stranger in a Strange Land, where an exotic prophet appears out of nowhere to confront established dogma with new and wonderful ideas. Angel A’s novel is not on the level of the Robert Heinlein classic, but I enjoyed this read and recommend it, particularly for readers who have an interest in mysticism, comparative religion, and philosophy.


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