Hum by Natalia Hero (Metatron Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
As someone who has never really been a fan of magical realism, I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I started reading Hum by Natalia Hero. However, after a few pages, I knew I was reading something special, and my skepticism was misplaced.
Hum is a powerful story that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The novella follows an unnamed young woman as she grapples with her life after being raped. Hero uses the metaphor of giving birth to a hummingbird to illustrate that the effects of trauma are constant and ever present in one’s life.
The 102 page novella is broken up into four sections that follow the process of working through trauma. The first section describes the birth of the main character’s hummingbird after being assaulted. It shows not only her reaction to the event, but the reactions of those around her when she explains what has happened. Hero’s descriptions of how the various characters respond are insightful, didactic and believable. They are also, unfortunately, all too common. While the main character is tormented with anxiety, confusion, and fear, her co-workers and friends question her, asking if it really happened and, at one point, complimenting her for “getting laid.”
After introducing Fe, the main character’s supportive roommate, Hero describes the idea of Help, which she refers to throughout the book. She writes, “I need Help. But I don’t say that, because you don’t say that. You don’t say you need Help unless you know what Help you need.” As a survivor of trauma myself, I can’t count the number of times I have just said “thank you” or “I’m okay” after someone has offered me Help. What can be asked of others when we are already so unsure how to help ourselves?
In section two, the main character joins a support group for people with hummingbirds. Instead of finding comfort in the group, the main character’s anger about what has happened to her is ignited, and she becomes increasingly self-destructive. Hero uses this change to gracefully lead us into section three. We watch as the main character struggles with feelings of guilt and shame as she starts to accept and integrate her trauma into her everyday life.
The final section of Hum, which is only a total of four pages, focuses on the main character’s acceptance of her trauma or, in this case, her eternal hummingbird companion. The young woman finally comes to peace with what has happened to her. “We get Help. We learn to live together, and we heal. I let it fly freely.” She turns her trauma into an opportunity to start a new chapter in her life, and the book ends showing her in a new career. Although the ending might have come off as a bit trite, it was consistent with the main character’s actions throughout the story, and a fitting fulfillment of her arc.
Hum is a piece that can be appreciated by both survivors and non-survivors of trauma. Natalia Hero’s strong, concise, and at times, brash voice allows the magical realism in Hum to be integral to the main character’s emotional expression of her experience.
Buy this book: Metatron Press