Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth: Review & Giveaway (US only)

02_Bitter Greens 
A Novel
Kate Forsyth

Publication Date: September 23, 2014 | Thomas Dunne Books | Hardcover; 496p | ISBN-10: 1250047536

Genre: Historical/Fantasy/Fairy-Tale Retellings

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The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love. French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens... After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition. Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.

My Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Fairy tales have existed for millennia. Many of them evolved from centuries-old stories that have appeared in multiple cultures, simultaneously or separately. The variations mirror the different historical and environmental imprints, but these fairy tales remain fundamentally similar in their symbolic and ideological texture. It's a phenomenon known as cross-cultural transmission, particularly difficult to trace given the oral nature of this genre and lack of a real literary documentation prior to the XVIIth century. Common narrative elements (archetypes, plot, motifs) have spread over time and space, either stemming from a single source or  originating from common human experiences and appearing separately in different centuries and distant countries.

The Grimm Brothers' story of "Rapunzel", published in 1812, is an adaptation of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force's "Persinette", a fairy tale written by the French noble woman in 1698 while she was locked away in a nunnery as a punishment for her scandalous affairs and writings. The first known version of Rapunzel's story, though, is "Petrosinella" ('Little Parsley') by Italian writer Giambattista Basile (1575-1632), a tale published in Neapolitan dialect posthumously (1634) and translated in French only after de la Rose's death. What has been puzzling the fairy tale scholars for ages is how the French writer could have come to know about Basile's fairy tale, considered the lack of contact between the two writers due to language, time, and space barriers: to our knowledge, Mademoiselle de la Rose never travelled to Italy and, although exceptionally educated for her time, she didn't speak any of the Italian dialects. The key to unlock the mysterious connection between de la Rose's version of Rapunzel and Basile's original fairy tale may be hidden within the cold stone walls of  the Abbey of Gercy-en-Brien, the Benedectine convent where the French novelist was forcefully taken to in 1697 in order to put an end to the scandalous rumors swirling around her.

In Kate Forsyth's beautifully mannered and lyrical novel, Bitter Greens, the original tale of that innocent girl who was sold by her parents for a handful  of bitter greens (parsley), and locked away in a tower by a beautiful witch, is re-imagined in a three-story arc and re-told through a trifold range of voices: the moving, heart-rending, and haunting perspectives of de la Rose (the storyteller), Margherita (the original inspiration for the character of Petrosinella/Persinette/Rapunzel), and Selena Leonelli (the sourceress who used magic and innocent virgin's blood to preserve her beauty) are braided together in a multi-layered and flowery ensemble that merges elements of historical truth, folklore, magic realism, and pure fantasy.

To my greatest delight, while crafting her elaborate and yet accessible narrative construction, Forsyth delivers a metaphorically powerful message -- in the fashion of all good fairy tales. Women's eternal struggle to preserve their sense of self under the weight of historical circumstances and cultural boundaries that strongly limit their quest for happiness, self-expression, and independence is distilled, narrative thread after narrative thread, into an underlying theme of abuse and violence: de la Rose is punished for using her sharp wit and bold penmanship, and is literally 'imprisoned' among nuns by King Louis XIV of France, stripped of her assets, forced to embrace a vocation and lifestyle that utterly clash with her personality and talents; Margherita is sold by her parents, kidnapped by a witch, torn away from the love of her life; Selena is victim of her own obsession with youth and beauty as the only available tools she has to assess herself and exert her power in a society that harshly underestimates women's value and function.

The author's compassionate and emotional concern with such issues was for me so humane and fresh that all characters and themes, although portrayed in the frame of by-gone eras, felt timeless and engrossing. And that is the hallmark, the meaning, and importance of fairytales -- the beautiful thing about them is that they are like secret doors... "you can open [them] anywhere, any time".

***Review copy graciously offered by the publicist in exchange for an unbiased and honest opinion

Do you have a favorite fairy tale re-telling? Please, become a follower of this blog (GFC, Bloglovin, G+, Facebook, Twitter) and leave your comment along with your email address in the section below for a chance to win a copy of BITTER GREENS. The contest is open to US residents only. Good luck!

Praise for Bitter Greens

“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is an enthralling concoction of history and magic, an absorbing, richly detailed, and heart-wrenching reimagining of a timeless fairytale.” —Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival

“See how three vividly drawn women cope with injustice, loneliness, fear, longing. See how they survive—or perpetrate—treachery. Surrender yourself to a master storyteller, to delicious detail and spunky heroines. Bitter Greens is a complex, dazzling achievement.” —Susan Vreeland, New York Times bestselling author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Girl in Hyacinth Blue

“A magical blend of myth and history, truth and legend, Bitter Greens is one of those rare books that keeps you reading long after the lights have gone out, that carries you effortlessly to another place and time, that makes you weep and laugh and wish you could flip forward to make sure it all ends happily ever after—but for the fact that if you did so, you might miss a line, and no line of this book should be missed.” —Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of The Ashford Affair

“Kate Forsyth wields her pen with all the grace and finesse of a master swordsman. In Bitter Greens she conjures a lyrical fairytale that is by turns breathtaking, inspiring, poetic, and heartbreakingly lovely. Set like a jewel within the events of history, it is pure, peerless enchantment.”—New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn

“Bitter Greens is pure enchantment–gripping and lyrical. From the high convent walls where a 17th century noblewoman is exiled, to a hidden tower which imprisons an innocent girl with very long hair, to the bitter deeds of a beautiful witch who cannot grow old–Kate Forsyth weaves an engrossing, gorgeously written tale of three women in search of love and freedom. A truly original writer, Forsyth has crafted an often terrifying but ultimately redemptive dark fairy tale of the heart.”—Stephanie Cowell, American Book Award-winning author of Claude & Camille

“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it’s one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I’ve ever read.”—C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

"Threads of history and folklore are richly intertwined to form this spellbinding story. Kate Forsyth has excelled herself with Bitter Greens. Compulsively unputtdownable."—Juliet Marillier, national bestselling author of Flame of Sevenwaters and Heart’s Blood

Buy the Book

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Kate Forsyth 1 About the Author

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling & award-winning author of thirty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was recently voted one of Australia's Favourite 20 Novelists, and has been called 'one of the finest writers of this generation. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers, and has told stories to both children and adults all over the world. Her most recent book for adults is a historical novel called 'The Wild Girl', which tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, 'The Wild Girl' is a story of love, war, heartbreak, and the redemptive power of storytelling, and was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013. She is probably most famous for 'Bitter Greens', a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. 'Bitter Greens' has been called 'the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter', and has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award. Her most recent book for children is 'Grumpy Grandpa', a charming picture book that shows people are not always what they seem. Since 'The Witches of Eileanan' was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She's also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series – beginning with 'The Gypsy Crown' - which tells of the adventures of two Romany children in the time of the English Civil War. Book 5 of the series, 'The Lightning Bolt', was also a CBCA Notable Book. Kate's books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing. Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, 'A Mother's Offering to her Children'. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books. For more information please visit Kate Forsyth's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Bitter Greens Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 15
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, September 16
Review at Kinx's Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at Bookish
Wednesday, September 17
Review & Giveaway at Literary, etc
Review & Giveaway at Book Drunkard
Thursday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at Build a Bookshelf
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader
Friday, September 19
Review at The Maiden's Court
Review & Giveaway at Icey Books
Monday, September 22
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at A Dream Within a Dream
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, September 23
Review at Book Dilettante
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at SurLaLune
Wednesday, September 24
Review at Caroline Wilson Writes
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at Ink Gypsy
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at The Lit Bitch
Thursday, September 25
Review & Giveaway at No BS Book Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Friday, September 26
Review at The Gilmore Guide to Books
Review at Must Read Faster
Monday, September 29
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review & Giveaway at Bookworm Blues
Tuesday, September 30
Review at The Life & Times of a Book Addict
Review & Excerpt at Books-n-Kisses
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, October 1
Review at One Book at a Time
Review at Book-alicious Mama
Review & Giveaway at Mina's Bookshelf
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, October 2
Interview at Layered Pages
Review & Giveaway at Oh Magic Hour
Friday, October 3
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Review & Giveaway at Gone Pecan
Sunday, October 5
Review at Carole's Ramblings
Monday, October 6
Review at Book Babe
Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews
Interview, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Harlequin Junkie
Tuesday, October 7
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review & Giveaway at The Pretty Good Gatsby
Wednesday, October 8
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Review & Giveaway at My Friends Are Fiction
Thursday, October 9
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Friday, October 10
Review at Mel's Shelves
Review & Giveaway at No More Grumpy Bookseller
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Monday, October 13
Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Layers of Thought
Tuesday, October 14
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Review & Giveaway at Beth's Book Reviews
Wednesday, October 15
Review at Crossroad Review
Review at My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews
Thursday, October 16
Review at Cheryl's Book Nook
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Friday, October 17
Review at Mary Gramlich
Review at She Reads Novels
Monday, October 20
Interview & Giveaway at The Reading Frenzy
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  1. No fav retelling; not a big fan of them

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  2. I must concur with bn100; I cannot think of a great example to answer this question. I do like modern takes on Shakespeare plays sometime; they provide good material to showcase unique and nuanced perspectives by contemporary artists in various genres (directors of stage plays, directors of films, cinematographers, screenwriters, actors, novelists, etc. etc.). Thanks for this opportunity and for giving us the benefit of this and other features. I follow this blog on bloglovin, BTW ( Best regards, KAS
    If I win: shamy at post dot harvard dot edu

  3. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay is a recent favorite.

    emmiller (at) bellsouth (dot) net

  4. I enjoy certain fairytales, especially Midsummer Night's Dream. Thanks for this giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. beauty and the beast is my fav.

  6. my favorite re-telling is not a book, but a movie, of my FAVORITES!!!!!
    I follow your blog!!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  7. My favorite fairy-tale retelling is Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella! Thank you for this amazing giveaway! I've been looking forward to read Bitter Greens!

    I follow you via GFC - Michelle Lee

    email: xxxcveaglesxxx (at) yahoo (dot) com