This odd little parable, announced as an “ecological fable,” was written (and charmingly illustrated) by the late Berriault (d. 1997), in the wake of the long-delayed acclaim that greeted her award-winning story collection, Women in Their Beds (1996).
It’s an arch morality tale, about a disenfranchised parrot who alights accidentally in a Manhattan opera house, stays and learns to mimic brilliantly the singers who enchant him, is (inexplicably) dubbed “Petrowski” and made an international star—then, during a South American tour, is lured back to the tropical rainforest he now recognizes as his home, and becomes an enlightened ecologist. The story climaxes (if that’s the word) during a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, when a generic wise man confirms Petrowski’s tendency toward selfless sacrifice, and ends in a (conveniently planted) abandoned opera house right there in the Brazilian jungle, where “Petrowski and his Parrot Troupe” (of admiring avian colleagues) will thereafter make beautiful music, not for fame or fortune, but in celebration and defense of the unpolluted air where all may breathe (and singers may refine their artistry). If this isn’t a coy and rather precious allegory of Berriault’s own commitment to art and eventual triumph over obscurity (the summary observation, “An underestimated bird, he had overcome the odds against him and attained the pinnacle,” pretty clearly alludes to a neglected writer’s late-life success), then it’s a peculiarly underimagined children’s book. It has its moments; as always, Berriault’s genius shows itself in seemingly offhand yet precise and arresting details (a smitten Countess invites Petrowski to visit her “mansion surrounded by vast orchards of delectable fruits”). But it’s awfully fey and sentimental, and one doubts the author considered it ready for publication in its present state.
Berriault’s biographer may unearth much of interest here, but the general reader will likely find Petrowski is thin stuff performed in a decidedly minor key.