Monday, July 6, 2009

Briar Rose

Another of the books we shared while traveling this summer was Jane Yolen's novella-length retelling of Briar Rose, a lovely mystery tale in which an adult granddaughter pieces together the story her grandmother used to tell with what turns out to be her grandmother's untold Holocaust story.

As in all good fairy tales, the elements of the story all turn out to be true in some way. The grandmother really was a princess. She really was put under a spell and then woke up. She was rescued by a prince. But that's only the surface of the story. Part of the reason the grandmother kept retelling the story throughout her life is that it has depths, and every time she tells another part, her granddaughters understand more, especially when they ask questions. For instance, when the prince comes, he
"sang, too, and as he added his voice to theirs, it was as if he witnessed all their deaths in the thorns. It was as if he had knowledge of all their lives, past and present and future....
How can they have any future lives if they're dead?....
The future is when people talk about the past. So if the prince knows all their past lives and tells all the people who are still to come, then the princes live again and into the future."

The charm of this tale is in the way it unfolds, bit by fragile bit, until you understand how all the pieces fit together, better even than the grandmother ever understood it herself. And also in the way the story is continued by the granddaughter as she comes to understand the courage of the heroes, who are "all sleeping princesses some time" but know "it is better to be fully awake."

This is not a bed-time story. It is a story to make you come fully awake, not because of lurid horrors--it's not that kind of Holocaust tale--but because you'll see more if you make your way through life with your eyes opened.

6 comments:

TexasRed said...

I read this book a few years ago and was so impressed. Good reminder that I need to read it again!

bermudaonion said...

Your review is fabulous - I want to read the book now!

Teena said...

I just got two children's bedtime stories by Jane Yolen. They are both tales of how good dinosaurs behave at bedtime and when they are sick. They are well illustrated, and very cute (Though L seems to think that dinosaurs are funny looking dogs).

Nymeth said...

I couldn't agree more. This is one of my all-time favourites. Like TexasRed, I need to read it again.

Betty said...

Hi there! Based on this recommendation I started reading Briar Rose last night. Wow. What a beautiful story. I literally had to force myself to go to bed and put the book away. Thanks for bringing such an amazing book to my attention!

Anna said...

Great review! I've been wanting to read this one for ages. I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric