While I read this book I grappled with my lack of understanding. This is a book of historical fiction; I could not make up my mind if I wanted to learWhile I read this book I grappled with my lack of understanding. This is a book of historical fiction; I could not make up my mind if I wanted to learn the details about the life of Romani poet Papsuza (1910-1987), on which this book is loosely based, or whether I should just read the book for the delight of falling into the story. Only when I stopped trying to learn the factual details and let myself just plain enjoy the story did I enjoy the book. In the process I did learn very much about the Romani culture. I learned a bit about Papsuza too, but there are major differences between the main character in the novel, Zoli, and the real person Papsuza.
If I have any advice to give, it is to not demand complete understanding as you read this book. By the end you will understand. I was gripping after threads to master the subject. I was scared I would miss something and fail to understand. My advice: sit back, read the book, enjoy the sentences and do not worry if you do not understand everything. You will understand in the end. Many sentences can be interpreted in different ways. If you are looking for the truth, for the facts, you will surely be frustrated. I am giving this book four stars, because I love the writing. I love the message imparted by the book, and I did learned about Romani people, their hardships and lifestyle, with a focus on those living in Eastern Europe from the 30s through to the 21st Century.
This paragraph concerns the differences between Zoli’s life, the main character of this book and Papsuza. Papsuza was of Polish origin. Zoli was Slovakian. Romani women were not taught to read or write, but both Papsuza and Zoli could. However Zoli learned from her grandfather while Papsuza stole thing to trade them for lessons. The very biggest difference is that in real life Papsuza was interned in a mental institution and spent the end of her life, the last 34 years, all alone. McCann has changed that ending (view spoiler)[and has her marry a wonderful Italian man with whom she has a daughter (hide spoiler)].
I needed McCann’s ending. I am glad he changed it. This is not a book about one woman. It is about Eastern European Romani people and it is a book that poses philosophical questions. In the lines of the book you will find the statement: “Nothing is ever fully understood.” Zoli says this, and it is clearly evident in the whole way the book is written. Life is a constant struggle to understand, and so is the book. If you enjoy pondering philosophical issues and don’t mind the brain exercise necessary to figure out what is going on, then the book is for you. This is a central theme. Listen to what is said about Henri: ”He knew in advance all that is worth knowing.” This is not to be taken as a compliment. But then humor is thrown in: “I have gone through so many of them (boyfriends), maybe I should get an accountant.” Another theme that is returned to again and again is inferred in this sentence: “The river is not where it starts or it ends.” Sentences such as this are thrown at you. I say that river is life. You may interpret this differently.
In any case the writing is pure poetry – albeit free verse and unrhymed. Zoli speaks of gullible non-Romani: “You can make them swallow anything with enough sugar and tears. They will lick the tears and sugar and make of them a paste called sympathy.” Now cannot the Romani criticize us for once?! Or this: “Once I was guilty of thinking only good things happen. Then I was guilty of thinking they would never happen again. Now I wait and make no judgment. You ask me what I love....” Then the elderly Zoli names things so beautiful as fruit trees and walks, blue wool mittens, coffee, wind…..or a daughter’s first step.
Now I must mention what has bothered me. When I was stuck in the mode of trying to learn about the life of Papsuza, I was extremely annoyed about the confusion and lack of clear facts concerning the transition from the Fascist to Communist powers in Slovakia. I thought the sentences were not clear. I wanted more dates and clear facts. I thought I would not understand history! But the message of how the Romani people suffered and how their lives were lived does become clear without excessive dates and precise historical facts. You do get some. And in fact you do get the basics events of Papsuza’s life too! If you want more, look at this link: http://romani.uni-graz.at/rombase/cgi.... Look at her photo. She had an eye that “strayed”.
Another complaint I had was how the narration switched from third person to first and back and forth. This is confusing. Zoli is spoken of in third person and also in the first person. I very much preferred when she spoke in the first person. I disliked when I read that she did that and she did this, when I wanted to get inside her head. Later, when she does speak in first person, that the narrator of the audiobook (Nigel Carrington) was a man, was disturbing. This really threw me off ....until I got used to it. I panicked and thought: “Who is speaking?! This is some man! Oh gosh, I am totally lost.” The dates and places jump. There is a beginning section by a journalist that is further confusing. I warn you, this is a book that is scarily confusing until you just plain relax and listen/read. You do end up understanding. Don’t panic, as I did!
Originally I thought there was a conflict between the theme of the book and the writing style. But then when I got over my need to have full control and understanding of every sentence, when I let myself enjoy the words and philosophical questions, when I stopped demanding that I must learn some historical facts, that is when I realized I was totally enjoying myself. And I did learn a lot about Romani culture and suffering. About Papsuza too. I do highly recommend this book.
************** Well, having been blown away by this author's Let the Great World Spin, I must immediately read another. The difficulty was choosing. This or Dancer or another?
I have to stop reading holocaust books....... The one I am reading now is a YA book, but I think it is one of the most gripping I have ever read. WithI have to stop reading holocaust books....... The one I am reading now is a YA book, but I think it is one of the most gripping I have ever read. With little details the author puts you there in the concentration camp, naked, without clothes, in the showers, having your hair shorn off, being served soup filled with white squirming worms........No other holocaust book has done this to me so grittingly. I AM THERE. These are not just words on a page. You are equally torn when the Nazis take her new Schwinn bicycle, when her diploma is burned, when her new boyfriend cannot speak to her.... Why? Because you are her.
Please note that the author, who is writing about herself, is only 13 years old. Her home village is Samorin, near Bratislava. During a year, starting from April 1944, she is in Auschwitz, Plaszow, Dachau, Augsburg.
Excellent, moving writing.
I have said enough. Without a doubt, it gets 5 stars. For more information, see the comments below.
After this, I need a breather from holocaust literature.
Four stars, and I will explain why. I totally enjoyed byself while reading this book. Nevertheless, much felt like fantasy. I don't like faNO SPOILERS
Four stars, and I will explain why. I totally enjoyed byself while reading this book. Nevertheless, much felt like fantasy. I don't like fantasy - so why did I enjoy this book so much? Well, I did. I cannot explain it other than saying it moved me and the descriptions were vivid and the horror bits were truly horrid and I also frequently laughed out loud. I believe if there had been an author's note clearly explaining what was fact and what was fiction I may have given it 5 stars. I am the reviewer; I need an author's note. I need to KNOW for sure what is what. Then I could have sat back and enjoyed both parts, the fact and the fiction. Without the author's note I was continually wondering is this fact, is that fiction? In the end it feels more like fantasy simply because I cannot know for sure. I need to know. That is who I am! I will definitely read the next book as soon as it comes out!!!
Through page 462:Here I am again with another quote:
"You've been called a God, a warrior believed to have fallen from the heavens, but now as you stand before me I see you are not immortal, but a vulnerable human man. The scars frightened me not becuase I find them grotesque, but because I know you can be hurt, each one, a reminder you can be killed."
Yes , it is very smaltzy. The two quotes here are very different. You see you laugh and you get all sentimental and remember the horror bits. You get a wide range of emotions.
Through page 353: Some of the lines are just too funny!!! Like this one on page 353:
"I liked you better when you didn't speak," I snapped.
The guy Amara is speaking of rarely opens his mouth. When he does maybe he can spit out tops 20 words! This guy isn't to be played with. Who is he? Sir Draco Lorant, one of the five that made up "the infamous Black Quintet, the most feared and vicious squad of commanders ever to reign over the Holy Roman emperor and Hungary". Amara said this to him! What just happened is totally hysterical, but you will have to read the book to find out.
Through oage 322: I must add - don't go near this book if you cannot take horror stories. Everybody looks at book ratings and they think, wow, everyone likes that! I will too. That isn't always true. Each reader has to acknowledge their own preferences. We don't all enjoy the same things. You can't expect a dictionary to be a love story. Me, I am thoroughly engroseed in this book. Yeah terrible things happen, but in fact although this is historical fiction, the time line and the events that ensued and all of Elizabeth's family relations are true. These happenings are not fictitious. I asked the author, Charlie Courtland. I had to know! Let's put it this way - Elizabeth had a temper!
Through page 305: What I find most amazing is my empathy for the characters. Elizabeth, she is something else. There is no controlling her. Her behavior, even as a child is consistent with her behavior as she matured. How much is heredity and how much environment? An interesting question! First I felt terribly sorry for her but then my head kicks in and sometimes I am so shocked by her behavior. Nevertheless, her actions when put in juxtaposition with the social codes and mores of the times, although violent and morally wrong don't seem THAT weird. OK, her actions are bad but not unbelievable! The whole threat of Turkish invasion hangs over you. The castles up in the mountains filled with both splendor and horror engulf the reader. I simply adore it, and I am kind of surprised b/c I am so carried away by "the story". It MUST be the writing that catches me. Why these two girls, Elizabeth and Amara, act as they do keeps my head churning. They are little kids!!! That is another explanation.
What else? I love the depiction of the clothes and magnificence of the castles and at the same time there is a pressing gloom. The reader gets thrown around, and that is good. The first view of Francis, Elizabeth's betrothed, is wonderful. I mean this guy is great. And yet nothing works out, but you have a mixture of love and hate for the guy! The characters are NOT made of cardboard. Each is a lovely misture of good and bad and some horrible mixed in too!
There are some typos. How do they happen? How can "your" and "you're" be interchanged? I am having a hard time understanding this. Anybody know how such happens?
And I have been thinking about the title..... Dandelions in the Garden. Yes, these girls have been judged as weeds! Or is there more? I like it when a book gets me to ponder different ideas!
There are no maps, but this really isn't a problem since the text clearly explains where the villages and castles are located. I just use an atlas. However, neither is there an author's note at the end. I need to know what is fact and what is fiction. I love it all, but I like to know!
Through page 134:I really am enjoying my time with this book. It begins by introducing the readers to Elizabeth Bathory's lady in waiting, Amara Borbala. The two women are about the same age. We first meet Amara when she is elderly, in her 60s, and she is looking back on her life, listening to the gossip at a coffee house in Vienna. The gossip is rife with talk of her former patroness, Elizabeth Bathory, aka the Blood Countess. Amara realizes she is one of the few who can really know the truth about Elizabeth Bathory. Was she the demon all believed her to be? And why was she who she was? Amara, in her old age, is a busy-body and kind of bored, but underneath she is sharp and feisty and truly wants to do what is right. She wants to make sure that the same errors are not repeated again. That is why she writes the story. It is very important that the auhor makes the readers like Amara because the story will be told by her. If we don't like her, don't trust her, why should we believe what she says about Elizabeth. The author suceeds with this wonderfully. The author has also already made the readers feel a tension of horror. Bad stuff is going to happen. You get spooked. The underlying tension draws you in.
The following expresses a major question which I have concerning this book. I can already feel a compassion for Elizabeth. The manner in which this girl has been treated is utterly deplorable. In addition, her character is not that of a weak damsel. She challenges all that is wrong. She simply is that kind of person. Nobody gives her any moral support. But here is my question - if you are treated like shit, do you then have the right to give shit back? Of course not! NEVERTHELESS, the author is making me side with Elizabeth. I find this rather amazing. My head says - no, you cannot behave despicably simply because you have been mistreated! Yet my heart is thumping for Elizabeth to get even with the horrid people surrounding her. How can the author make me feel compassion for such a person as the Blood Countess?! But so far, that is exactly what the author is suceeding with. I am rooting for Elizabeth!
I should also add that the author's description of the place and era is superbe. The manners of the aristocracy, clothing and the ruggedness of the Hungarian landscape are vividly brought to life. The tension between the Hungarians, Austrian and the "horrible" Turks hightens the entire feeling of gloom and terror, creating a feeling of imminent danger.
Jagged pieces of ice surfaced over the rapid current of the Danube. Foan bubbled at the breaks and ripples. At first glance I did not see her. I squinted through the mist rising from the river, finally spotting Elizabeth standing on a rocky ledge above the shore. She climbed up the face and stood eyes fixed on the town of sarvar. Her red gown turned burgundy from dampness clinging to her legs as the wind pushed against her. Elizabeth's black hair caught in current whipped around in a mass of tangled strings.
My Mama use to say something about the wind in spring - that it was relentless. She'd say the wind conjured spirits in this land.... Currents licked and snatched at the lands vulnerable parts, carving and scarring the crags and basins below. Airs flowing down from the CarpathianMountains carried with it pessimistic attitudes and aroused impulses in those living along the danube River. Armies rode on them, pushed against and resisted from one day to the next, year after year fueled by greed and religious supremacy and often clashing in a violent whirl. Mama told me the people in this land are unique because a deep-seated determination festers in each of our bellies, the culprit being a consistent threat of mortal danger.
There you have a glimpse of the writing styyle. I find it dramatic and engaging, but there are a few to many typos. All in all, I am thorughly enjoying myself. It is FUN to curl up with this book! I guess the reason for this is the writing style; you are physically drawn in.
I am a little scared..... will this wonderful reading experience fizzle out? That happened to me recently, and it makes me nervous to even open my mouth. But hey, it is the whole reading experience from page one to the final sentence that is important. It is NOT just how the book is all tied up at the end that determines how you judge a book; the PASSAGE THROUGH the book should be fun. This is exactly that. :0)