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Was

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,464 Ratings  ·  212 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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Callie Rose Tyler I think you are mixing up two different chapters. In one chapter we met Millie who works for MGM as a makeup artist. She takes the bus to work and is…moreI think you are mixing up two different chapters. In one chapter we met Millie who works for MGM as a makeup artist. She takes the bus to work and is doing Judy Garland's makeup for the bulk of the chapter.

Following this chapter, there is a chapter devoted to Ethel, Judy's (Frances') mother. She shows up early for work at the Douglas Aircraft Company. So she decides to wait in her car and put on her makeup but she gets caught up in her thoughts. She then realizes that she has been so deep in thought that she is now late for work and also didn't finish applying her makeup. She gets out of her car and dies in the parking lot.(less)

Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nancy
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
Wanda
Jan 23, 2011 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
...more
Carrie
Feb 16, 2009 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
Timothy Juhl
Apr 06, 2008 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
...more
Res
Apr 14, 2007 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
...more
Chris
Jul 10, 2008 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
John
Feb 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Callie Rose Tyler
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wish-list
"Oz is, after all, only a place with flowers and birds and rivers and hills. Everything is alive there, as it is here if we care to see it. Tomorrow, we could all decide to live in a place not much different from Oz. We don't. We continue to make the world an ugly, even murderous place, for reasons we do not understand."

I think this is the type of book that stays with a person. The book looks at a few different lives impacted by the Wizard of Oz, the people feel so incredibly real that I kept th
...more
Mary
note 1: This is one of those books that doesn't so much make me cry as just fill me with a deep sense of sadness down to my very core. I'm still undecided as to whether I like this sensation or not (I probably do).

note 2: it's kind of a messy book and while lots of it comes together eventually, parts do kind of seem like loose threads and little tangents... either that or I'm spectacularly dense and overlooked their significance (I probably did).
Jamie
Jun 15, 2009 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.
Lainy
Jul 29, 2012 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
...more
Nichole (DirrtyH)
Oct 23, 2009 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
...more
Simon
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Clare
Aug 07, 2007 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.
Sarah
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I heard about this book reading an article about affect written by Lauren Berlant (I think!) and I was intrigued. She was commenting on the affect of sorrow, and this book is a great example of that. Ryman uses The Wizard of Oz as an allegory for loss, and re-imagines the narratives of characters from the book including Dorothy, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, the Scarecrow and Frank Baum himself. It goes back and forth in time from the late 1800s to the 1980s. There are even scenes with Judy Garland ...more
Elizabeth Brenner
I'm not sure how to rate this book or shelve it. The fantastical elements are very subtle, and so grounded in realism they almost aren't there. The writing is superb and so enjoyable to read, with compelling characters and a strong clear voice, but I didn't care much for the story itself. The Oz elements and tie-ins are little thrills to stumble over, but I imagined a very different sort of book when I picked this up. I'm refraining from giving this a star rating, because I don't want to mark th ...more
Sian
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books, for-uni
This book was just a Whole Lot of Sad tbh
Cindy Hartner
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wouldn't say that I enjoyed this book exactly, but I certainly respected it. It is so intelligently written and conceived. The plot jumps through time to reveal various plot details that are important collectively, but each area doesn't spend quite enough time with the characters to get you to care about them. I would still recommend it as it is a challenging exercise. I may read it again.
Andrew Peters
This book blared out at me because I'm such a fan of Gregory Maguire's Wicked series, and I was curious about a different re-telling of The Wizard of Oz. I also like multiple, intertwined POVs, and I thought those narratives were well-chosen: the "real" Dorothy Gale, living in post-civil war Kansas, Judy Garland as a child actor, and the fictional actor Jonathan, a gay man dying of AIDS in the 1980s with an obsessive interest in the movie.

Of those, I enjoyed Dorothy's story the most. Her rustic,
...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
Sally
Apr 29, 2009 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
...more
Perry Whitford
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 08, 2012 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
...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
Lorina Stephens
Dec 07, 2014 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
...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
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an epic journey 'of a book'!

This book takes you back to a "what if" imaginative look at another side of THE WIZARD OF OZ &/or the Broadway Musical, WICKED. I was a little skeptical about this book. However, I had to read it as friends (Antonio Convit & Tim McGraw) gifted the book to me on my birthday: 5/26/2003). Then I was swept away during a flight from Los Angeles to Miami to Barbados as I completed the book. I really thought the author gave sound advice in terms of living life i
...more
Sara
Apr 07, 2014 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
Jason B Schmidt
Hard to summarize my feelings. It was at times hard to push through. Some of it was painfully icky and real within such a fantastical setting. I enjoyed the magical elements as applied to very real life situations. I liked that it all connected to one major subject and then branched off crazily. Definitely a strong feat of creative writing. Interested to read another of his books.
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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
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“It is necessary to distinguish between history and fantasy wherever possible. And then use them against each other.” 6 likes
“Topeka meant, "a good place to find potatoes". That made Dorothy laugh. But any place is what you make it said etta. You've got to make it home. You've got to do it for yourself.... It's difficult because everybody wants to be loved and you think you can't find a home unless you are loved by somebody, anybody. But it's not true. Sometimes you can learn to live without being loved. It's terribly hard, but you can do it. The trick is to remember what it's like to be loved.” 5 likes
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