Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"The Wild Girl" - Review by Christie Pang

"The Wild Girl"

by Kate Forsyth

Review by Christie Pang
Editor's Note: Here is Christie's promised review! (It's worth the wait, believe me.) 

And stay tuned today for all the details to enter our GIVEAWAY of this book! (for US residents only due to shipping sorry.)
Jacket description: 

"Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. 

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as 'Hansel and Gretel', 'The Frog King' and 'Six Swans'. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen's father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales."
International covers for Australia & UK and audiobook cover 
“Wild by name and wild by nature,” Dortchen Wild was the childhood sweetheart of Wilhelm Grimm and the heroine of Kate Forsyth’s latest novel The Wild Girl. The book follows the life of this extraordinary woman who supplied the brothers with many of their famous tales. ‘Hansel and Gretel,' 'Rumpelstiltskin,' and 'Six Swans' are all part of the treasury the Grimm brothers seek to collect when Napoleon's war comes to Hesse-Cassel. For Dortchen, however, these tales are not a political response against the French, nor a means to turn her family's fortune, but a way to communicate to Wilhelm the hopes and fears of her love for him.

In many ways, Dortchen’s life can be seen as a parallel to the tales she shares. Similar to 'Aschenputtel' (Cinderella), Dortchen is practically a kitchen maid to her family, although her sisters are kind to her. Later, she finds transformation by donning a beautiful dress to gain Wilhelm's attention. More disturbing, however, is her similarity to 'All-Kinds-of-Fur'. For those not familiar with the tale, the conflict revolves around a king trying to marry his daughter and went through drastic revisions in the Grimms’ treasury.  It quickly becomes apparent that Dortchen’s father harbors abusive tendencies and later it turns toward incest. But unlike her fairy tale counterpart, escape is not easily forthcoming for Dortchen. For much of the novel, the psychological effects of sexual trauma hold Dortchen a prisoner in her own skin. Jakob once tells Dortchen that she must fight for Wilhelm's affections, and fight she does, against the shadowy memory of her abusive father whose presence has power over her even after his death.  

Since Forsyth had little historical evidence to use from the writings of Dortchen herself, it’s fascinating to see how she explores what-could-have-been rather than adhering only to what-did-happen.  Notwithstanding, Forsyth's bibliography is extensive. She researched everything from the Grimms’ early manuscripts to contemporary analyses by fairy tale scholars. She even spoke with a descendant of Dortchen's brother. In light of the already extensive coverage of the Grimm's lives, it is refreshing to see Forsyth's evocative prose seamlessly transition research into fiction. Forsyth takes particular care to highlight the tellers of the tales themselves, elaborating on their middle class origins and dispelling the popular idea that they came from German peasantry. It is surprising that Dortchen’s place in history remains marginal considering that she contributed almost a quarter of the tales in the Grimm's first collection. Fortunately, through Forsyth, Dortchen is finally acknowledged.

Dortchen reminds us that the heroines and heroes of fairy tales are not flawless—they are always in search of something on their journeys. For Dortchen, it is the courage to overcome her fear of reliving abuse by another man (“I am trying to learn how to be brave,” she tells Wilhelm). And most importantly, it is also about reclaiming her freedom, the “wildness” her name alludes to.

The Wild Girl is not entirely a happy novel, nor is it a dark one. It is a beautiful historical romance on its own and a near true-to-life fairy tale told with touching detail of two lovers and their struggle to nourish that love despite the odds of war and trauma. Forsyth explores the silence around Dortchen's life by “listening to the story within the stories that she told,” bringing out the voice that was previously hidden by the stories that this woman treasured. The Wild Girl is a phenomenal retelling that enables us to read the Grimms’ fairy tales anew.
Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the book was sent to the reviewer (originally provided by the publishing company) in exchange for an honest review.

Christie Pang is a graduate student in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is also the curator for Pins and Needles (https://panfairytales.wordpress.com)a fledgling print and online fairy tale journal that foregrounds transformation in subverting societal norms. 

1 comment:

  1. I have been wanting this book for quite some time now. I am incredibly happy that it is finally here!