Lost Language of Cranes

Title: Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

Publication Date: 1986
Genre: Literary Fiction
Page Length: 352 pages


Lost Language of Cranes, written by David Leavitt and published in 1986, delves into the lives of two generations of a family grappling with their identities, desires, and the challenges that come with societal expectations. Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey through the lives of these characters, addressing themes such as sexuality, repression, family dynamics, and self-discovery.

The novel unfolds through alternating perspectives, primarily focusing on the lives of Philip Benjamin and his son, Owen. Philip, along with his wife, Rose, harbors a secret about his sexuality, which intertwines with his desire to understand and decipher the meaning behind a lost language of cranes. This serves as a metaphor for Philip’s own hidden desires and a symbol of the unspoken emotions within the wider LGBTQ+ community.

Philip works as a lawyer in Manhattan and becomes increasingly distant from Rose and Owen. His struggle with his sexuality comes to a head when he forms a connection with Eliot, a young man he meets at a gay bar. As Philip begins to explore his desires, we witness the internal conflict he faces, torn between societal expectations and his own quest for fulfillment.

Owen, meanwhile, has recently moved from Boston to New York City to pursue his dreams as a writer. He becomes romantically involved with a young man named Jack, but struggles to introduce Jack to his conservative parents. Owen’s journey of self-acceptance parallels his father’s, as he grapples with his own sexual identity and seeks to navigate the complexities of relationships in a society that often imposes constraints on love.

Other key characters include Sandra, Owen’s close friend who takes on the role of a confidante as they both face the challenges of young adulthood and self-discovery. Additionally, there is Jerry, Owen’s eccentric and artistic roommate, who offers a unique perspective on life and relationships, challenging the traditional norms that have dictated their lives.

Throughout the novel, Leavitt skillfully weaves together the narratives of these characters, exploring the intricacies of their relationships, their inner conflicts, and the impact of societal expectations on their lives. The author highlights the power of communication and the consequences of silence, using the symbolism of the lost language of cranes to enforce the importance of expressing oneself honestly and openly.

Lost Language of Cranes provides a timely exploration of sexuality and identity within the context of personal growth and familial relationships. By delving into the struggles faced by the Benjamin family and their circle, Leavitt offers readers a poignant portrayal of the challenges individuals encounter when they cannot fully embrace their true selves.

It is important to approach this novel with an open mind, as it sheds light on the LGBTQ+ experience and encourages empathy and understanding. Leavitt’s masterful storytelling draws readers into the lives of the characters, provoking thought and reflection on the universal themes of love, acceptance, and the pursuit of personal happiness.

Lost Language of Cranes continues to be a significant work of literature, inviting readers to explore the complexities of self-discovery and the longing for genuine connection amidst societal expectations.