Excerpt from Pretty Birds by Scott Simon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Pretty Birds

by Scott Simon

Pretty Birds
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 368 pages
    May 2006, 368 pages

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"Are you preparing your breakfasts over there?" the Knight asked solicitously. "We are. I'm getting ready for toast, sausages, and coffee. Fresh eggs and milk. What do you get? Oh yes, I've seen them—those hard beans in plastic sacks from the United Nations. They look like bird turds. Do they taste like bird turds? We've seen you trying to claw each other for bags of those turds in the food lines. Do even birds do that? Besides, you have to soak these bird turds first, which I don't know how you do with all your water turned off. We've seen you guys standing in lines. You have to fill empty plastic detergent bottles with water and run home, just to make a cup of coffee. I'll bet the Frenchies don't have to do that! Ask to take a look inside those cute little white tanks they have. I'll bet they have espresso makers inside."

The Knight sounded disconcertingly tender, almost candied. Irena and other women she knew, including her mother, had tried to imagine what he might look like.

"A sexy voice usually means an old mole," Mrs. Zaric had advised. "It's all they have."

But Irena envisioned a round-shouldered man with curly black hair damp from the shower, a curly-lipped grin studded with a cigarette, and sleepy-lidded cobalt eyes behind curls of smoke—the blue-eyed bad boy who flattered with insolence.

"And what," the Knight continued, "do you make out of that canned American army meat the Yanks have left over from Vietnam? The Yanks send you food that Americans wouldn't give to their dogs. Look at those pictures in American magazines of Americans fluffing up juicy food into their dogs' bowls. Doesn't it look delicious? Wouldn't you just about die for a bowl of American dog food?"

The Knight paused to share another indulgent chuckle.

"Americans love their dogs. Love them more than Muslims, Jews, and Gypsies. Pray to Muhammad that you come back in your next life as an American dog. Leap into their laps! Lick their faces! That's the life!"

One of the first U.N. commanders to come to the city was Indian. He was aghast when he read the English translation of the Knight's routines. The general had gained most of his soldierly experience in his country trying to quell riots that had been inflamed by flowery ethnic harangues.

"Oh, the kid is just a comedian," said Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader with great Chrysler-like swells of silvering hair. "I know him a little. You would enjoy him. Perhaps we'll have a drink sometime, if that doesn't offend Krishna. The Knight—Necko is his real name—is a nervous little wisp. He wears thick black glasses to cover a nervous twitch. Kids like to shock, you know? I am a psychiatrist. I have insight that other political leaders lack.

"Besides, Commander"—and here Dr. Karadzic leaned in, as if confiding something personal—"he doesn't mean your Muslims. He means ours. Turks. Yours have an ancient, noble history. Ours are descendants of turncoats, who have professed their faith for only a few hundred years, then expect to be treated like the ancient Greeks. I am the only man who should take offense at the Knight. Each of his little monologues takes up time that could be used to read my poetry!"

Excerpted from Pretty Birds by Scott Simon Copyright © 2005 by Scott Simon. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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