15 March 2013

Review: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth book cover
* From the author for review *

Last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed Bitter Greens by Australian author Kate Forsyth, giving it five stars. I recently had the pleasure of being contacted directly by the author and invited to read an advanced copy of her latest novel The Wild Girl due to be published on 18 March 2013.

Set in the early 1800s, The Wild Girl is the story of Dortchen Wild, a young girl growing up in the medieval town of Hessen-Cassel in Germany and living next door to the Grimm family.  As most of us know, the brothers Grimm are famous for their collections of fairytales, however it is a little known historical fact that Dortchen Wild told the brothers 1/4 of all of their stories.

Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm make up the brothers Grimm we know today, and Dortchen meets Wilhelm when she's just 12 years old.  The Wild family are incredibly poor and with five sons and one girl (Dortchen's best friend Lotte), several of the brothers continue with their academic and literary pursuits despite their threadbare clothes and empty bellies.

The Wild Girl is based on this true story, and the author Kate Forsyth conducted mountains of research - including reading Wilhelm's diaries - in order to bring Dortchen Wild to life on the page.  It takes place against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars and I found it fascinating to read about characters experiencing the invasions from this perspective.  For some unknown reason I'd always imagined that the Grimm Fairytales were older than the 1800s, but as the author points out in the novel's Foreword, the young brothers lived in the time of Jane Austen, which was quite a revelation for me.

Portrait of the Brothers Grimm
© Deutsche Märchenstraße e.V.

Dortchen's father owns and operates a shop front and she gathers and prepares the herbs and plants that are used to create the medicines, draughts and tinctures her father sells.  I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the novel, and was amazed by Dortchen's knowledge of herbs, tea infusions and medicines for the sick.  

Another favourite part of the novel was the transcribing of stories by the Grimm brothers.  Kate Forsyth was able to vividly portray the image of the brothers eagerly taking notes with quill and ink on parchment as Dortchen (or another person) told them a fairytale or story.  These scenes had a sense of magic, and for a booklover, these segments were a gift.

The Wild Girl is about yearning and love, poverty and sacrifice, but it's also a very dark tale.  Those expecting the same tone as Bitter Greens should prepare themselves for a darker journey, and a greater struggle that lasts almost a lifetime for Dortchen.

Check back soon for a Q&A with author Kate Forsyth, here on Carpe Librum!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Planning to start this in the next couple of days and I am really looking forward to reading it!

  2. Excellent Marg, let me know what you think. Did you enjoy Bitter Greens?

  3. Austen-times? Really? Wow!

    There's my new knowledge for the morning!

  4. Thank you so much for your lovely review! I'm so glad you loved THE WILD GIRL. It is a dark tale, and I really struggled with that - at times I was haunted by nightmares. However, it also is about love and faith and the triumph of the human spirit, and I hope that shines through too.

  5. Selwyn, always happy to help with your early morning knowledge :-)

    Kate, so glad you stopped by Carpe Librum and thanks for the comment. I can imagine some of the sections which may have given you nightmares; the sections where information was given by a character returning from war were shocking and vivid.

    But the theme of love and endurance definitely shines through and balances it out.


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