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Reviewed by:
  • Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
  • Nathaniel Otjen
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Mozart’s Starling. New York: Little, Brown, 2017. 288 pp. Cloth, $27; paper, $16.99; e-book, $13.99; audiobook, $24.98.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s most recent book of nonfiction, Mozart’s Starling, uses the European starling as a point of departure to explore human and avian entanglements. Haupt, a bird enthusiast and professional writer, describes adopting and living with a starling named Carmen in her Seattle home. Interwoven into this personal narrative about the joys and challenges Carmen brings to home life is a story about a starling nicknamed “Star” that lived with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna for three years, inspiring several of his musical compositions. Mozart’s Starling uses the insights gained from Carmen and Haupt’s relationship to tell “the tangled story of Mozart and his starling” (11). While Haupt adopts Carmen to learn about Mozart’s relationship with Star, her new companion teaches her much more. Indeed, as Haupt explains, “Carmen turned the tables. She became the teacher, the guide, and I became an unwitting student—or, more accurately, a pilgrim, a wondering journeyer who had no idea what was to come” (13–14). [End Page 132]

Among the most intriguing issues discussed in Mozart’s Starling is Haupt’s personal dilemma of raising a member of an avian species she despises yet grows to love. Attempting to justify these mixed feelings, she decides she can simultaneously hate starlings as a group while still loving Carmen and then learn to extend that love: “Do I want starlings gone? Erased from the face of North America? Yes, unequivocally. Do I resent them as aggressive invaders? Of course. And do I love them? Their bright minds, their sparkling beauty, their unique consciousness, their wild starling voices? Their feathers, brown from one angle, shining from another? Yes, yes, I do” (74). Despite her continued resentment toward starlings, Haupt ultimately solicits us to reevaluate our treatment of “pest” species and to recognize the beauty, intelligence, and creativity of the common starling.

In addition to loving, humorous stories about Carmen and a rich historical narrative about Mozart, Haupt’s book features a stunning collection of images and an impressive array of explanatory footnotes. Among the book’s most memorable passages are a discussion of Carmen’s acquired household language and Haupt’s visit to Vienna to view Mozart’s Domgasse apartment, his grave, and Star’s burial location.

Mozart’s Starling makes two important contributions to the growing corpus of contemporary multispecies literature. First, Haupt demonstrates how a nonhuman being can provide new insights into the human condition. Indeed, Haupt uses her first-hand knowledge of European starlings to open up a new reading of Mozart, portraying him as a strange, clever, curious, and disorderly man. Second, Haupt uses an “invasive” species to teach about the “tangled complexity” of multispecies worlds (210). As Haupt reminds us, “In the creatures that intertwine with our lives, those we see daily and those that watch us from urban and wild places—from between branches and beneath leaves and under eaves and stairwells and culverts and the sides of walks and pathways—we share everything” (208–9). [End Page 133]

Nathaniel Otjen
University of Oregon


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pp. 132-133
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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