A Personal Matter was the first of a series of novels whose main character is the young father of a brain-damaged child. Called Bird because of his birdlike appearance, the young father is a frustrated intellectual and unhappy husband who dreams of flying off to Africa. When Bird’s wife gives birth to a baby with a hideously misshapen head, Bird sees the baby as a threat to his dream. Convinced that the baby will not live long, Bird arranges with one of the doctors to dilute the baby’s milk, but miraculously the baby thrives on this potentially lethal diet. Overwhelmed by the infant’s instinctive power to survive, Bird resolves to devote his life to his son regardless of the cost.
The baby is not only the cause of the father’s personal anguish but also the symbol of the anguish of humanity faced with calamity. The connection between personal and universal tragedy is made at the moment when Bird, as he is about to murder the baby, hears a news broadcast announcing the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing. In a flash Bird sees the world’s destiny mirrored in his own. Whether it is one life or a million lives, the act of murder is equally evil.
The moment he perceives the connection between the baby’s fate and the fate of humanity, Bird decides he must take care of the baby. He knows the odds are against him, that he will be creating misery for himself while sustaining a life that means absolutely nothing to the world....
(The entire section is 482 words.)