Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Old Country" by Mordicai Gerstein

Book JacketI just finished this fable, fairy tale, 20th c history, and loved the language, and Gerstein's ability to weave so many worlds. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Middle grade, but adults would love it too. I think the picture book, called A BOOK that he created in 2009, has a bit of this flavor too.....

The Old Country
Mordicai Gerstein
Roaring Brook Press
Grades 4 - 12
Starred review in April 18, 2005 issue of Publishers Weekly
*Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) skillfully shapes a story by turns disturbing and comforting. His hybrid of fantasy and fable explores such themes as human nature, war, magic and music.

The tale within a tale opens as Gisella visits her great granddaughter, gives her a present and shares a story of her childhood in The Old Country, where, she says, "I was a little girl and where I was a fox." Gisella builds on this note of intrigue , as she describes her wise great-aunt warning her that in the woods "things may not be what they seem.

Things change; now it's this, then it's that. Look closely, be careful, and never look too long into the eyes of a fox." Indeed, danger befalls the young Gisella when her brother is drafted into the army, and it's up to her to kill the fox who's been stealing the family chickens. Deep in the woods, strange things occur--talking animals and "small people."

The girl finds herself gazing intently into the fox's eyes, and the two mysteriously exchange bodies. Meanwhile, war breaks out ("Air that had been full of springtime now had a new odor, bitter and jagged. It was the smell of pain, and it was everywhere"), sending Gisella on a labyrinthine journey with a forest sprite as her guide.

Gerstein brilliantly ties the war's escalations with the dwindling of magic, and caps off this vividly descriptive narrative with an unexpected ending.
Ages 11-14. (May)

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