Book Review: Tara MacLean “Song of the Sparrow”

Harper-Collins Canada 2023

An epic tale of resilience and determination.

The first reflection on finishing Tara MacLean’s autobiography ‘Song of the Sparrow’ is to wonder how she managed to pack such an epic tale, both emotionally and geographically, into just 330 pages. Her story is a journey that takes MacLean from the woods of Prince Edward Island (PEI) in the Gulf of St Lawrence to the wide world and back again. Throughout MacLean appears as a fierce soul with an elemental guiding light.

MacLean’s earliest memories are of a kind of new-age hippie existence with her mother, father her sisters and a brother, in a cabin in the forest where she feels close to nature and encounters her guiding spirit, an entity which appears along her way to guide and guard her.  Inspired by her musician father, she loves to sing and play and becomes the sparrow of the title.

Things take a darker turn when her father, influenced in part by fellow musician Gene MacLellan (writer of ‘Snowbird’), returns to the evangelical Christianity of his childhood and submerges the family into the world of the church.  Ultimately this leads to the break-up of the family, and paves the way for an even darker phase where MacLean and her sister are subjected to horrifying sexual abuse by a house guest and by their maternal grandfather.  The latter we learn has previously abused MacLean’s mother.

One of the themes referenced by MacLean is the need for a protector to survive in order to care for the protected and this is a key part of her survival strategy.  The family is burnt out of their home, only just surviving; a result of unspecified criminal activity.  Her mother moves to London, MacLean to Vancouver with her biological father while her siblings move in with parents and step parents. At this point she’s still at school.

In Vancouver, in tandem with troubled teenage years, she starts out on a musical career, eventually being signed to Sony for publishing, plus Nettwerk in Canada and Capitol in the US and the rest of the world.  She falls for and marries her guitar player, with whom she has a daughter but struggles with the conflicting demands of parenthood, relationships, career and location.

After a promising start, MacLean’s career is torpedoed by the rise of Napster and file sharing.  In the course of the next few years, she divorces and remarries, has two more children, divorces again and, sporadically, restarts her musical endeavours.  All along the way, MacLean remains tough, loyal, devoted to family and, most of all, resilient.  She loses a sister in a car crash and almost loses a daughter to an infection contracted during a trip to Brazil.  Her guiding spirit, nature and her love of singing remain constants, helping her to deal with these traumatic events.

Her journey brings her back to Prince Edward Island, writing and performing in a show, ‘Atlantic Blue’, celebrating the culture and music of the area; a show which ran for two years.

She has made a record, ‘Sparrow’, to accompany the book and the songs on the album deal with themes and episodes in the book, including ‘Last Kiss’, a song to her lost sister.  Some readers may have seen her playing some of those songs at the Moth Club in January, as part of the AMA UK festival.

‘Song of the Sparrow’ isn’t the easiest read, but MacLean writes with her heart as well as her pen.  This is the story of a fierce, resilient soul whose flight sometimes approaches the stars and is sometimes close to crashing into the ocean.

The book can be purchased online at https://www.harpercollins.com/products/song-of-the-sparrow-tara-maclean?variant=40518002507810

About Richard Parkinson 132 Articles
London based self-diagnosed music junkie with tastes extending to all points of big tent americana and beyond. Fan of acts and songs rather than genres.
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