Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer of the Dancing Bear by Bianca Lakoseljac

Title: Summer of the Dancing Bear
Author: Bianca Lakoseljac

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Eastern Europe / 1960s / Coming-of-Age / Gypsies / Rural Life / Grandparents / First Love)
Publisher/Publication Date: Guernica Editions (6/12/2012)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Liked a great deal -- loved at times!
Did I finish?: I did -- I luxuriated with this one!
One-sentence summary: The summer of 1960 -- with the mysterious disappearance of a neighbor's baby and the arrival of gypsies -- shapes Kata's life for years to come.
Reading Challenges: E-books, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's a smidgen cheesy but it represents a specific character/scene and I do like that.

I'm reminded of...: David Rocklin

First line: Perched high up in the crown of an old cherry tree, eight-year-old Kata sat in her hideaway, humming a tune.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like poignant coming-of-age stories, Eastern European fiction, or stories from the '60s.

Why did I get this book?: I loved the title -- there's something so magical and romantic about it.

Review: I lingered over this short novel -- 250ish pages -- because Lakoseljac's writing was so lovely -- poetic and lyrical -- and the story she was telling was so sad and bittersweet, I didn't want to rush through it. Set in Serbia (or as it was then, Yugoslavia), the novel begins in the summer of 1960, and follows Kata, a young woman living on her grandparent's farm with her aloof, cold mother and fascinating, emotive grandmother.

For Kata, this summer literally changes her life when the gypsies arrive in the small village, bringing with them a dancing bear and a young man she decides she's in love with. When a young villager's infant disappears, the gypsies are accused of kidnapping the child, and suddenly the once welcome visitors are now criminals and murderers. While Kata's grandmother likes and openly interacts with the gypsies, others in the village are less welcoming, and when the gypsies leave, a cloud of suspicion hangs over them, lingering for years. In the coming summers, Kata's life is shaped by that summer -- how she thinks about family, her own identity, her place in her village and the specter of the baby's disappearance which never leaves.

It takes a skilled writer to create believable, evocative children and teenagers, especially in a book in which they -- and their evolving feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts -- are the primary focus. Lakoseljac's Kata was a lovely foil for this dreamy, complicated, emotional story: she was curious and imaginative in ways I could relate to, a book lover and romantic, a young woman determined to solve the mysteries that divided her village and find her place in the world.

My only critique is that, near the end, during the big reveal, I felt a bit lost, unsure of what was happening -- I reread the final chapters a few times (no challenge since the writing was so lovely) but even now I'm not sure I can say confidently I understand what happened. Dream and reality merged -- I got caught up in the language, that's for sure! -- and the resolution offered is satisfying, sad, and mysterious.

Get this book if you like coming of age stories, or rural/small town locales, or post-WWII fiction. (Death is a preoccupation in the village, as those killed during WWII are still missed, as war crimes from the '40s remain unsolved, and it was a fascinating backdrop that was relevant and ignored by the villagers as needed.) If you enjoy poetic novels, this is one for you -- Federico García Lorca figures literally at times -- and Lakoseljac's prose won't disappoint. I'm eagerly awaiting her next novel.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Summer of the Dancing Bear to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian residents, ends 9/14.


11 comments:

  1. This sounds lovely. Is it a translation, or originally in English?

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    1. Originally in English -- this is a lovely Canadian publisher that features, I think, mostly if not all Canadian authors. Stumbled upon this one via NetGalley -- on the reasons I love them as I'm not sure I would have found this book or the publisher otherwise!

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  2. I'm not sure this one is for me, though I do think a lot of the things you've had to say about it are interesting. I also kind of like the cover.

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    1. It's a quiet and pretty pensive novel -- even though it is set in the summer, I'd actually say it has a wintry or autumnal feel -- I just sort of curled up when reading it, even when, say, on the subway commuting to work. It's definitely a book for the mood, if that makes sense!

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  3. Oh, my, this one does sound interesting! I like that you "luxuriated" with this one; now I'm curious, I might have to pick this one up!

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    1. It's worth picking up -- plus the publisher is fascinating -- I'm very delighted with them so far!

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  4. Coming of age, check; eastern Europe, check; child's point of view, check! This sounds like a book I'd like!

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    1. Yes -- it was sooo lovely -- I could easily reread it now!

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  5. This sounds interesting...but I think I might want to borrow this one rather than own it. But you do have me curious about the big reveal.

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    1. It was surprising (to me) and I rather liked it -- it fit well with the mood of the story.

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  6. Well you know the WWII aspect caught my eye, even if the cover isn't very appealing.

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