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Was

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,148 ratings  ·  161 reviews
WAS is the story of Dorothy. Orphaned as a child in the 1870s, she goes to live in Kansas with her Aunty Em and Uncle Henry. They face drought and poverty. They face each other. Alone, abused, Dorothy meets an itinerant actor called Frank and inspires a masterpiece. From the settling of the West and the heyday of the Hollwywood studios to the glittering megalopolis of mode ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published January 13th 2005 by Gollancz (first published 1992)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,457)
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Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nancy
“Was” is a very unusual story that jumps back and forth in time and between a variety of characters, all connected by “The Wizard of Oz”. There was Dorothy Gael, a poor and abused child, growing up in Kansas during the 1880s. Another story introduces Jonathan, an actor dying of AIDS whose love of Oz helped him cope with an unhappy childhood. Then there is the story of Jonathan’s therapist, who discovered early on a talent for helping people and making money. And let’s not forget the young and tr ...more
Wanda
This is one of the few books to which I wish I could give a negative star rating. It is ever so loosely based on events and contexts having to do with the Wizard of Oz. When I say loosely, I mean loosely. I think some folks who picked this up were expecting something along the lines of the brilliant "Wicked." Not even close to that.
There are three story lines: the depressing story of Judy Garland and her dysfunctional family and ultimate self-destruction through alcohol and drugs, Dorothy, an o
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Timothy Juhl
Apr 09, 2008 Timothy Juhl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of 'The Wizard of Oz'
Author Ryman is most notably a British sci-fi author and in 1990, he wrote 'Was' for a more mainstream audience. It is an act of brilliant writing for a British author to so clearly describe the brutal Kansas plains of the late 1800s, and with the first few pages, the reader is caught up in the twisted story of a sexually abused Dorothy Gale, the sexually confused childhood of Frances Gumm, and the valiant efforts of a dying actor hoping to make one final stage exit as a Scarecrow.

Although somew
...more
Carrie
his was, by far, one of the best books I have read this year. It is basically a mediation on life through the lens of The Wizard Of Oz. The novel consists of a number of intertwined stories, all centered in some way on the Oz phenomenon. The story touches on Jonathan, an actor dying of AIDS who has loved the Oz story since he was a child. It touches on Judy Garland, her life, and the making of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Most movingly, it also posits the existence of an actual girl, n ...more
Chris
For whatever reason, I've been struggling to get a review for Was done. Maybe cause I finished it on vacation, and upon my return, had to give it back to the library and so my copy's gone and I've not read a page of it in two weeks. Or maybe it's just so good as to be unreviewable. Or more likely, it's because there's so many different things going on in this book that my brain got frazzled trying to pick a place to begin. In such cases it's best to apply okkam’s razor. The simpler you are, the ...more
Res
The one where a girl named Dorothy loses her parents in an epidemic and is sent out to the frontier, to Kansas, to live with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She's abused and driven mad, but not before telling a story to a schoolteacher named Baum. Meanwhile, in the present day, a horror-movie actor named Jonathan is searching for Judy Garland's history while dying of AIDS, and his psychiatrist remembers meeting elderly Dorothy in an asylum.

Memorable, but kind of a mess.

The book begins with Doroth
...more
John
Feb 28, 2007 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves fiction and reality combined
Shelves: fiction, queerfiction
Ryman threads the life stories of Judy Gumm (Judy Garland before her name was changed), Frank Baum (the author of the Wizard of Oz, and a fictional modern day actor daying of AIDS until the three plots final weave together.
Ryman has a brilliant, fluid imagination. This book still moves me today. I saw a stage adaptation of this book at Victory Gardens in Chicago and was almost as impressed by how the theatre company brought these different worlds of each character so seamlessly together.
Lainy
Time Taken To Read - 5 days

Blurb From Goodreads

This haunting, magical, wildly original novel explores the lives of several characters entwined by The Wizard of Oz--both the novel written by L. Frank Baum and the iconic, strangely resonant 1939 film. It is the story of the "real" Dorothy Gale, an orphan living a hardscrabble life with abusive relatives on a Kansas frontier settlement, and of the kindly substitute teacher who decides to write the story of the life she ought to have had. Was is als
...more
Jamie
Jul 15, 2009 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jamie by: @forumz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Simon
In the closing chapter, the author opens with: "I'm a fantasy writer who fell in love with realism." That's an illuminating bit of information that sheds light on where the author was coming from when he wrote this book. This is not itself a fantasy novel but rather a novel about how people use fantasy to escape the drudgery, cruelty and tragedy of their everyday lives.

This is actually several separate but connected stories that the narrative chops and changes between. Separated by time and plac
...more
Nichole (Dirty H)
I had a hard time choosing between 2 and 3 stars for this book. I felt very much through the whole thing like this book was trying to Tell Me Something but that I was just too stupid to get it. I don't like books that make me feel stupid. So there you go.

This book was about 15% moments that were mildly interesting, 60% horrifying stuff that made me think the point of the book was that life sucks and then, if you're lucky, you die (if you're unlucky you go crazy and have to have someone else clea
...more
Clare
This is a retelling of the Oz books with some of the movie mythology thrown in. It reimagines L. Frank Baum himself, Dorothy Gael and her family, Judy Garland, and a host of other familar characters. Ryman doesn't just add background to them, he adds real depth to the whole Oz phenomenon. The stories are moving and skillfully interwoven. I loved this book and it's one of the ones that got me actively seeking out parallel novels.
Lorina Stephens
Geoff Ryman clearly demonstrates his prowess as a writer with his novel Was. This is a tragic exploration of the Dorothy/Oz culture of L. Frank Baum from both an historical and modern perspective.

Ryman chooses the voice of a fictional inspiration for Baum's story, that of Dorothy Gael, who is orphaned due to a diphtheria epidemic, and is sent to live in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. That story explores the benign neglect of Dorothy and the eventual destruction of what had been an inn
...more
Airiz C
Dorothy lives in a Kansas farm with Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and her dog Toto.
Sounds familiar? Well, this is not L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is a fictional story leading to the creation of the said masterpiece and its television adaptation. It tells the interconnected tales of Dorothy Gael, a real girl in the 80’s who moves to Kansas after her parents die of diphtheria; Jonathan, an obsessed fan of The Wizard of Oz who is dying of AIDS; Judy Garland, the actress who grows up to p
...more
Karen Brooks
This was a surprising, moving and utterly original book that uses story of and behind The Wizard of Oz, the author, the characters and those whose lives were changed by the 1939 movie, namely one Frances Gumm (Judy Garland) to construct an intertwined tale of hardship, hope, human frailty and strength. It segues between the bleak life of Dorothy Gale who lives with her Aunt and Uncle in dire poverty in a shack in drought afflicted Kansas in the 1800s to modern day New York and places and times b ...more
Sally
Well now, that was just a trip and a half. At first it seems like three different stories in one, all tenuously linked via Oz - the story of Dorothy in 1880s Kansas, the story of Baby Frances Gumm growing up into Judy Garland, the story of Jonathan who is obsessed with The Wizard of Oz. I was much more interested in Dorothy's story, and much less interested in Jonathan's. Of Frances/Judy there is very little and it almost feels extraneous at times.

Although maybe Bill and Frances were linked - I
...more
Perry Whitford
Aug 07, 2011 Perry Whitford rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Scarecrows and Tin Men.
In 1876 Dorothy takes the train to Manhatten, Kansas, sent to live with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry in a one room farm house that would turn out to be no place like home for her and her dog Toto.
Ethel and Frank Gumm lead their three daughters through singing and vaudeville routines at their movie-house in Lancaster, California in the late 1920's. Baby Frances would grow up to be Judy Garland and star in The Wizard of Oz, before disowning her parents and descending into a life of drug dependenc
...more
David Rain
The premise of Ryman’s novel is that Dorothy, the heroine of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, was a real person, a girl that Baum met when he was a schoolteacher in Kansas in 1882. Instead of being magically transported to Oz, the real Dorothy was an abused child who could escape from her misery only through fantasy.

The novel begins in the present day when Jonathan, a gay Hollywood actor obsessed with Oz, is driven to find out what happened to Dorothy. Plunging between present and past (Jonathan’s sto
...more
Juushika
From Dorothy as an abused orphan to Judy Garland as an isolated child star to a fan of the film dying of AIDS, Was retells the mythos of The Wizard of Oz from inspiration through the impact of the film, uniting disparate storylines in a winding study of fantasy, reality, and the nature of home. Objectively, this is a complex and thoughtful book: it reinvents the Oz mythos while staying faithful to its well-known themes and images, a combination with the potential to have a great impact on the re ...more
David
This book was an imaginative telling of three concurrent stories: the life of Dorothy Gael before and after she went to Oz, the life of Judy Garland surrounding the time she played Dorothy, and the end of AIDS victim Jonathan's life. It was about feeling the distress of disturbed lives and the narratives layer on each other very poetically drawing connections through each character's pain and images from Oz. Ryman's weaving together of Dorothy's story with Jonthan's was seamless with the couple ...more
Sara
An imaginative, inventive blend of historical facts and fabrications, Was is one of the darkest, saddest books I've ever read. I was interested in the book because I'm a big fan of Oz lore, but this doesn't really have much to do with the works of L. Frank Baum at all. I think in a way, Geoff Ryman was trying to make something of a commentary on the destruction of the world by people, which I totally agree with, but I think his method got a little out of hand. I feel like the separate stories he ...more
Lisa
This was one of the more painful books that I've read.

Was is set of stories about different characters and their relation to the Wizard of Oz. There's the story of Judy Garland, of Dorothy herself (a real character in this book), of the man who took care of Dorothy in her last days in a mental institution, and of the man dying of AIDS and searching for a way to connect all of the stories.

I'm giving the book 3 stars because I think it was well done. I had trouble with the time jumps, but once I
...more
Nathan Dehoff
n one of the first issues of The Baum Bugle I ever received, there were two reviews of this that were basically polar opposites, with one reviewer loving the book and the other hating it. I thought it was a pretty good read, but it was very dark. It presents the real Dorothy as an abused girl. Uncle Henry rapes her, and Aunt Em kills Toto. As a result, she becomes a bully at school. When L. Frank Baum serves as her substitute teacher for a little while, he resolves to give her the life he wished ...more
Jeff Bull
I think it's best to go into this book blind. It's even better if you under the thoroughly mistaken notion that Was somehow re-imagines the Wizard of Oz. This is so not Wicked.

I reviewed this on a blog I run (used to post more often, hope to start doing it again). There, I was sufficiently obsessed with avoiding spoilers that I only talked about the "Dorothy" thread in much detail. Given all that, I still think I alluded to what I found most appealing about Was: something like the idea that "som
...more
Brendan Diamond
Was is a fascinating novel with memorable and interesting characters who haunt you and stay with you. Unfortunately, it's also a mess, with two narratives that mildly intertwine but mostly keep their distance from each other. While good in conception, it goes all over the place, never really establishing a pace or rhythm. As a result, what could have been a spectacular novel based loosely on characters from The Wizard of Oz is merely occasionally entertaining.

Where the novel succeeds brilliantl
...more
Anara Guard
This novel is beautiful, disturbing, intriguing, challenging. We are all so familiar with the Wizard of Oz--primarily through the film, but also through the books--that we may think there is nothing new to be said. (Certainly not after Maguire's Wicked came out.) But Geoff Ryman has visualized the real lives of Dorothy, of L. Frank Baum, of Judy Garland (indirectly) and of new characters whose lives are enriched because of the story that each of the others has told. How did Dorothy come to live ...more
Dormouse

...I still don't know why, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy kept wanting to go home.

Was has a sense of magic, and beauty. And it is full of sad stuff. Well, has very sad things happening in it.

The people in it feel very real, even the ones that I wish didn't.

Sunga Rose
Just a quick note since I saw this on a friend's "to-read" list. I loved this book the first time I read it. I'm a big fan of both the Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland and I really enjoyed all of the story lines.

Several years after I read it, I got my book club to read it. Most of them hated it. They couldn't get through it. After rereading it myself, I understood. The first third of the book is just not very interesting. However, the rest of it is brilliant. A very beautiful and moving story with
...more
Chris Duval
Recommended. As with some other fiction by Geoff Ryman, the subject matter can distress while the writing is vivid and skillful. Unlike most of his writing it is not SFF; he considers it realism. I will have to reflect on the novel for a while before analyzing it more than superficially. This novel has two threads that continue to the book's end: one follows Dorothy Gael's horrible 19th century childhood/ adolescence and, after a long gap, her final days in a mental institution. The other follow ...more
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50408
Geoffrey Charles Ryman (born 1951) is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and slipstream fiction. He was born in Canada, and has lived most of his life in England.

His science fiction and fantasy works include The Warrior Who Carried Life (1985), the novella The Unconquered Country (1986) (winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the World Fantasy Award), and The Child Garden (1989) (winner
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More about Geoff Ryman...
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“It is necessary to distinguish between history and fantasy wherever possible. And then use them against each other.” 5 likes
“There is no man so unsuited for the task of speaking about memory as I am, for I find scarcely a trace of it in myself, and I do not believe there is another man in the world so hideously lacking in it.” 3 likes
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