Book Review: ‘The Wild Girl’ by Kate Forsyth

wild girl cover

Book Title: The Wild Girl

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: Believed to be the source of many stories made famous by the Grimm brothers, this is the story of Dortchen Wild, the woman behind the fairy tales. Set against the backdrop of Napolean Bonaparte’s attempt to conquer Europe, this is a story of stories that follows the love between Dortchen and Wilhem Grimm – and Dortchen’s own story of resilience and hope.

Favourite Scene: I know I say it all the time, but I have so many favourite scenes to choose from in this book – the opening scene is particularly beautiful.

Favourite Character: Dortchen. I try not to choose main characters as ‘favourites’, but I cannot get past this incredible woman.

Review: Stunning. I knew that I was in for a treat after reading Bitter Greens but this book was just … stunning. It took me a little while to pick it up from my table because I was nervous – I had high expectations and I was worried it wouldn’t meet them or, worse, it would exceed my expectations and come to an end all too quickly. It was one part the latter and all other parts breathtaking, so while I caught my breath I stayed in the world of The Wild Girl for just a little bit longer …

It’s not all beautiful and wonderful – in fact, sometimes my stomach churned and I felt physically ill because of some of the things that happened to Dortchen.What is incredible is Dortchen’s spirit – wild in every beautiful sense of the word. Every character earnt their page-time and every detail contributed to a magical tale. Ultimately Dortchen is empowered, presenting a strong and resilient character with a ‘wildness’ that all young women should be encouraged to have: independence, compassion, determination.

I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of historical fiction – and this book sets a new benchmark in telling “untold” stories from history. Forsyth’s depth of research is commendable – it was a brilliant factor in Bitter Greens but she reaches a new level in The Wild Girl in terms of painting accurate (and deeply fascinating) pictures of the past. The result is a plausible (and enchanting) story for Dortchen and her relationship with Wilhelm. I loved the intricate detail of all of the characters, and the magical way Forsyth wove history into her narrative.

I was thoroughly lost in the narrative well into the early hours of the morning, and finding my way back was part of the enchantment.

5 commas!

 

5 commas

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Book Review: ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth

bitter greens cover

Book Title: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fairytale retelling / Historical

Summary: A retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, Bitter Greens explores the intertwining stories of three women: storyteller Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, La Strega Bella Selena Leonelli, obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty, and Margherita, a young girl held captive in a tower.

Favourite Scene: So many! Some are so haunting that they are prominent in my mind, not as favourites but as scenes I simply cannot forget. I loved – I can’t say, it’s a spoiler!

Favourite Character: Selena – this is a ‘wicked witch’ you can feel for.

Review: I love a good ‘flawed heroine’ and Bitter Greens delivers three strong female characters, each beautifully written as believable, sympathetic characters. They are flawed, they are scarred, they are desperate for their stories to be told. It is more than a fairytale retelling – history and elements of magic are woven into the narrative so intricately that the darkest of spells is believable. Every character in the novel exists with a purpose, and no story is left unravelled. The attention and detail given to historical figures is demonstrative of an extensive amount of research and consideration not only for the person but the people who would have existed around them.

Sixteenth century Venice is, itself, a character richly portrayed through elegant prose. Renaissance Venice rose up from the pages and I walked down its streets with a fresh perspective of one of my favourite cities – no easy feat considering I’ve been there three times.

Kate Forsyth is one of my favourite authors, and I credit her Witches of Eileanan series for my love of fantasy. She is one of the writers who most influenced teen-me when it came to both reading and writing. Her two most recent books – Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl (review to come) – have given adult-me renewed love for her work.

5 commas!

 

5 commas

Book Review: ‘A Different Sky’ by Meira Chand

Book Title: A Different Sky

Author: Meira Chand

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: Drawing together the lives of different people from different backgrounds, all with hopes for their futures in Singapore, A Different Sky starts in 1927 and stretches to the mid-1950s. The novel follows the lives of Mei Lan, Howard and Raj – and many others – as they are influenced by the events in Singapore’s history during this time, from communist protests, Japanese occupation, and pro-independence rallies. A more detailed synopsis can be found here.

Favourite Scene: “Wilfred Patterson was getting used to everything but the heat. The humidity drained him of energy; he was never free of its insidious presence.” (page 111) – I hear ya, buddy.

Favourite Character: Howard. I think I have a new literary crush.

Review: Evidently I’m branching out from my “usual” reading material and I am, once again, pleasantly surprised. Chand’s evocative descriptions of colonial Singapore are intriguing to me and I especially love the fact that as I was reading the novel I was often on the bus on my way to one of the streets or locations mentioned within its pages. More than anything, I found A Different Sky to be the perfect introduction to Singapore’s rich history – especially as I now live here. I feel a much closer bond to Singapore now than what I did before I read the novel!

The novel itself is a gorgeous tapestry of characters, events, and politics. I feel terribly ignorant when it comes to history, so where other readers might read the novel with an awareness of what’s about to happen to everyone, I was shocked and surprised as lives and paths were changed because of the events that took place not only in the novel but also in history. I think I’m Historical Fiction’s new fan!

Chand creates beautiful characters with flaws and imperfections; I was delighted to discover that I could relate to some of their experiences, beliefs and ideals. I especially love the way the characters are pulled into plots greater than themselves; the politics and social issues of the time period influence them just as much as people can influence social change. It is very well done in representing such a tumultuous political time period, without it being a manifesto or lecture on Singaporean politics or culture. More than anything, A Different Sky is an ode to perseverance and the human spirit, and a beautiful love story.

Book Review: The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Raphael Baker

The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Raphael Baker is a book I’ve been reading because I have recently acquired an HSC student who is being tortured with it in school; he isn’t especially enjoying the book or the work associated with it!

Winner of the 1997 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, it is a study of history and memory based on Baker’s exploration of his parents’ history and their memories of World War II. It is well done as a combination of fact, memory, and personal reflection. It varies between offerings of his parents’ first hand accounts, factual documentation, and imagined descriptions and narratives of events that happened in his family’s history.

There are parts of this novel that bored me – mainly the long lists of towns I can’t pronounce – yet there are also parts of this novel that remind you how precious memories are; memory is so intrinsic to your definition of self that I cannot fathom how dementia patients feel when they begin to lose self-defining memories. More than anything, the novel validates the importance of memory to the individual – sometimes regardless of the facts.

While my seventeen year old student isn’t enjoying the novel, I appreciate it for what it does as a study of history and memory. It’s not something I would normally read, however, and if not for my student I would not have picked it up and chosen it!