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3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,322 Ratings  ·  187 Reviews
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 teache ...more
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published June 9th 1992 by Knopf (first published 1992)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,965)
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Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This 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 tro ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Wanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Timothy Juhl
Apr 09, 2008 Timothy Juhl rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 16, 2009 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 14, 2007 Res rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff, slash-interest
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
Jul 30, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 28, 2007 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 03, 2012 Lainy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2009 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jamie by: @forumz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Nichole (Dirrty H)
Jan 31, 2012 Nichole (Dirrty H) rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Aug 07, 2007 Clare rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 13, 2014 Lorina Stephens rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2007 Dormouse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: litfic

...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.

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
Karen Brooks
Oct 06, 2013 Karen Brooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 09, 2011 Sally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Perry Whitford
Sep 25, 2015 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Rain
Jun 08, 2012 David Rain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 21, 2014 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 02, 2016 Marisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've now read this book three times, and I so want to give it five stars for its scope and beauty. The novel weaves several story lines surrounding The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz. In one, little Frances Gumm grows up to be teenaged Judy Garland starring in the movie-to-be as it's being made. In another, after her mother's death, a little girl named Dorothy Gael is sent to Kansas to live with her aunt and uncle in the 1870s; she has a terrier named Toto and meets a substitute teacher named Frank Ba ...more
Jeremy Preacher
Was is a story about how The Wizard of Oz reflects terrible childhoods and transforms them into something bearable, even transcendant. The two major threads are a real-life Dorothy Gael, whose Kansas is even flatter and grayer and more intrinsically horrible than implied by the movie, and an autism-spectrum kid in Canada trying to cope with reality who becomes a gay man facing his impending death from AIDS. (It was published in 1992, when the law requiring that all depictions of gay men involve ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nathan Dehoff
Aug 26, 2014 Nathan Dehoff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 19, 2014 Jeff Bull rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 24, 2015 Cristina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Se em O Feiticeiro de Oz, de Frank L. Baum, Dorothy é arrebatada do mundo real e na série de Gregory Maguire a história fantástica é transformada pela visão da vilã que não passa de uma jovem mal interpretada pela sociedade, em Was a fantasia é trazida à realidade, com uma Dorothy que me recordou a interpretação de Alan Moore em Lost Girls, ainda que numa perspectiva mais negra.

Semelhanças com a história fantástica? Muitas. Mas de uma forma que faz chocar a história fantástica com a realidade du
Oh my! And, by that, I don't mean 'lions and tigers and bears' but that this is a very special book, with the kind of deep humanity and understanding that only appears occasionally (and which I've found, for example, in the short novels of Cynan Jones, strikingly obvious from his first, The Long Dry, and some by David Almond such as The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean). I have read other novels by Geoff Ryman, and they have been seriously good, but they have been, for want of a better shorth ...more
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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
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.” 6 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.” 4 likes
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