Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Briar Rose ~ Jane Yolen

This novel has stayed in my mind. There's somthing very moving and compelling in Yolen's transformation of this old, well-worn story. The castle becomes a concentration camp, the maze of thorns a barbed wire fence, the magic spell administered by a gas chamber. It's a book of mourning, really, as Yolen uses a fariy tale to help us--the readers? the characters? the survivors? maybe simply the author herself--bear what is unbearable. The fact she titles it Briar Rose and not Sleeping Beauty is significant, I think--it's a tale of pain and suffering, of life in spite of death, not a romantic story with a happy ending.
The sections set in the modern day are the weakest, I think, but the main character Becca manages to carry them through well. I liked the structure of the novel--you being to see how Gemma's version of Sleeping Beauty is the only means she has of explaining her life, as the events themselves unfold. We end up with the essential truth, but not the whole truth. I'm not sure what that essential truth is though. This is a sad book, and angry. Even the sub-plot romance is half-hearted. Love--romantic love, anyway--is a temporary reprieve, a moment of breathing space, instead of the culimination of the story. Familial love is the only love that lasts, here. It doesn't afford protection or confer blessings, like in fairy tales, but it's still stronger than time in Yolen's novel. She also notes the pervasiveness of the Nazi's hatred, encompassing not only Jews but Romany, Slavs, political dissenters, and homosexuals. The faculty and staff here have little stickers that indicate a "safe zone" for GLBT students--someone to talk to, someone who can help. Stickers pasted on doors and desks, with litle pink triangles on them. They'll always look horribly ironic to me.
"This is a book of fiction. All the characters are made up. Happy-ever-after is a fairy tale notion, not history."--Author's Note, pg. 202


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