Feb 15, 2009

East by Edith Pattou

A couple of weeks ago, Kailana and I noticed we were both planning to read East by Edith Pattou, so she suggested we read it at the same time and review it together. We decided that we’d each ask the other five questions about the book, and then we'd post our answers the same day. But before I give you Kailana’s questions and my answers, a short introduction: East is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, an animal bridegroom tale with many similarities to the myth of Cupid and Psyche. In East, the protagonist is Rose, the youngest daughter in a large sixteenth-century Norwegian family. The novel follows the plot of the fairy tale pretty closely, but I was as engrossed as if I’d never heard the story before.

1. Is this the first retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" that you have read? Did you think she did a good job retelling the tale? Do you recommend any other versions?

Even though “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is my favourite fairy tale, this is indeed my first retelling. I think Edith Pattou did an excellent job. The novel is close enough to the fairy tale that it feels familiar, but there’s more than enough variation to keep the reader interested. I liked all the details she added: Rose’s family, the Troll’s background, the real world setting, etc. My favourite thing about fairy tale retellings is how they add characters with believable personalities, emotions and motivations to the bare bones of a well-known plot, and I think she really succeeded in this regard.

There’s another retelling of this fairy tale that I’ve heard great things about: Snow and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. I’ll have to pick that one up one of these days.

2. Tell us about a favourite scene or moment in the book. (Going to use this one too)
I absolutely loved Rose and Malmo’s journey through the ice in the Arctic. The descriptions were beautiful without being overdone, and I could perfectly visualize the vast white landscapes. Part of the reason why I loved it is that I’ve always loved stories about Arctic exploration. Another reason is that I loved Malmo herself—she’s an Inuit shaman who helps Rose in her search for the White Bear, and she’s just such an interesting character.

I also loved how Pattou included details about the traditional Inuit way of life (which I hope are well-researched and accurate! I’m a bit traumatized by recent events, but there’s an interview with Pattou at the end of my edition of the book, and she does mention reading several books on the subject.)

3. What did you think about Rose? Was she a likeable character? Did you think that her story and character was told well enough that you could believe in her?
I liked Rose a lot. She was impetuous, but not silly; she was smart and she was determined. I did believe in her. I loved the fact that she grew as a character and learned so much about herself throughout the story.

One of the main reasons why I believed in her was because of her motivation in going after the White Bear. I love fairy tales, but I don’t expect them to have realistic relationships. Fairy tale retellings, however, are a whole other story. In East, Rose and the White Bear developed a pleasant companionship during the year she spends at the enchanted castle, but they don’t get to know each other all that well. So as I read on, part of me began to worry that she would suddenly realize he was the love of her life when she lost him and would go after her because she couldn’t live without him, or something along those lines. To be honest, that would have ruined the book or me. (And this is not as cynical as it sounds. I'm all for romance, but romance in which the protagonists actually know each other.)

Fortunately, that’s not what happens. Rose decides to find the White Bear because she knows that her impulsive act has doomed him to a terrible fate. She acknowledges that she doesn’t know him all that well, and there’s no talk of love until much later in the book. But she feels responsible for this mysterious being who was kind to her and whom she failed to help because of a mistake.

4. What did you think about the real world intertwined with the make believe one? Did the use of real places (with altered names) and history take away or add to the book for you? Why?
For me it definitly added to the book. I’m a big fan of books in which a real historical setting and magical elements are intertwined. I loved all the historical details – the bits about sixteenth-century Norway and France, about navigation, about Norse myth, about mapmaking, etc. But I also loved how, despite the real setting, the story still has that “once upon a time, in a land far far away” feel. It probably helps that Pattou never identifies the time and place directly. I know it’s the sixteenth-century because she says so in the interview, but in the book itself the timing is vague (though the reference to Portuguese caravels did make me suspect it was around then).

5. Now that you have had time to finish the book, what is one thing that sticks in your mind that you will remember anytime that you hear mention of this novel? Is there anything, or do you think you will forget about it as time goes by?
Hmmm…I think I will remember the Trolls, strange though this might sound. I love how Pattou developed them and gave them a background, a language, and way of life of their own. I found them both frightening and fascinating. The Troll Queen was cruel, but she too had believable motivations. And the existence of Tuki (a young Troll Rose befriends) gave them some depth, made them more interesting than they’d be if they were simply portrayed as mindlessly cruel human-enslaving monsters. The story shows us their dark side, of course, but we also get the feeling that there’s more to their society than that. And if you think about it, the cruelty with which they treat humans isn’t too different from the cruelty with which humans sometimes treat what they see as “lesser beasts”.

One thing I’ll probably forget are the secondary characters (other than Malmo, Tuki, Neddy and Rose’s parents). The story uses multiple points of view, including that of Rose’s brother Neddy, so him I'll remember. But she has a large family, and the rest of them I’ll probably forget . Which is only natural, I guess, since they mostly remain in the background.

I’ll leave you with a passage I really liked:
Rubbing linseed oil into my blistered hands, I thought wistfully of how magic lets up skip over the steps of things. This is what makes it so appealing.
But, I thought, the steps of things are where life is truly found, in doing the day-to-day tasks. Caught up in the world of enchantment as I had been at the castle, it had been the routine things I had missed most, which was why I had set up that laundry room and insisted on doing my own washing. But I had missed so much.
You can read Kailana’s post here.

Other Opinions:
Becky’s Book Reviews
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Framed and Booked
In Search of Giants

29 comments:

  1. Thanks for your review. I really enjoyed this book and have suggested it to several students.

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  2. I vaguely remember reading the original myth.

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  3. I'm so happy you enjoyed this one!

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  4. I don't know the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but I have East in my tbr pile.. one day I'll get to it! lol

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  5. I like the sound of this - I do like retellings of fairy tales!

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  6. I wasn't familiar with this fairy tale but I read the link you provided- that was fascinating. I especially liked all the extra details in the footnotes. I'm adding East to my tbr!

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  7. Ooh, I'm adding this to my big List of Books To Get When My TBR Is Sufficiently Reduced. "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is one of my very favourite fairy tales. When I was very young, my elementary school librarian used to read to us from a gorgeously illustrated edition of the story. It really stuck with me. I loved it so much that I borrowed another copy from the public library and reread it a dozen times or more. EAST sounds like a wonderful retelling.

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  8. I enjoyed both East and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. I just read the latter and loved it and it's been over a year since I read East. Now I'm thinking I need to re-read it. Great review!

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  9. Loved this review format :D It was fun. I know I'll enjoy this one based on the cover alone. I love polar bears :)

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  10. This was not one of my favorite fairy tales AT ALL, but I so enjoyed East. I may have to read it again actually!

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  11. I love this review format too! :)
    Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I'm a big fan of fairy tales retellings!

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  12. I would read this based on the cover alone! Simple gorgeous. I think I considered reading this last year for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge and another Twisted Fairy Tale challenge I participated in. But there were so many others to choose from that this one got pushed aside. Maybe this year!
    Loved your review of it too--very nicely written.
    *smiles*
    Kim

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  13. I remember reading JenClair's review of this one-thanks for reminding me about it! :)

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  14. Gavin: You sound like my kind of teacher :D

    Ladytink: the myth is one of my favourites too.

    Becky, I really did :)

    Deslily, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    GeraniumCat: So do I :D

    Jeane: I'm glad you enjoyed it! I just love SurLaLune's annotated fairy tales.

    Memory: lol! Love the name of that list. And oooh, I'd love an illustrated edition.

    Megan: Thanks! I think I'll wait a bit to pick up Moon, Ice, etc. or else the fact that I read the same story recently might make me enjoy it less. But I really look forward to reading it.

    Chris: I'm glad you enjoyed it :D And yep, it's hard to go wrong with polar bears, lol. You know what else has polar bears? HIS DARK MATERIALS. Just saying :P

    Jenny: I can also see myself returning to this book.

    Melody: As you know, so am I :D I'm sure you'd enjoy East.

    Kim: The cover is beautiful, isn't it? Do keep it in mind for this year's OUAT!

    Eva: you're welcome! I think you'd enjoy it :)

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  15. I read East last year and loved it! Patou does a wonderful job.

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  16. Interesting review! This does sound like a good book.
    The trolls do sound frightening and interesting.
    nice passage!
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  17. Slacker me has her review up now! Sorry I was so slow!

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  18. OMG! Would you believe that I have this just sitting there on my shelf? I bought it a couple of years ago because I thought it sounded interesting, but I haven't read it yet. Now I really want too! Thank you!!

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  19. I always liked this fairytale when I was little - and the book sounds like something I'd really enjoy!

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  20. I've never heard of this fairy tale either. However, I do love me a good fairy tale retelling, so this review has intrigued me. Thanks for sharing! And I like the interview format.

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  21. Jenclair: She really does :)

    Naida, they're great! They added a lot to the book.

    Kailana, no problem! Loved your answers.

    Lenore: I love the feeling of rediscovering a book I already own. I hope you enjoy East!

    Darla: Yes! This is definitely your kind of book.

    Kim, glad you liked it :) I love me a good fairy tale retelling too.

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  22. I don't think I'd ever heard of the fairy tale. Or at least I can't remember! :)

    This is so cool what you girls did. I love it.

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  23. I'm so glad you liked this book! I liked it enough to re-read it someday. Thanks for the link to the original.

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  24. I liked this dual review, it must have fun to do it.
    The book sounds awesome too, must remember about it:)

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  25. The cover reminds me of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

    Do you see the resemblance?

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  26. Iliana, do read it if you have the chance!

    Terri B: I think I'll re-read it one day too.

    Valentina: It was lots of fun :) And I think the book is right up your alley.

    Saveophelia: Definitely.

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  27. I think it's really nice that you and Kailana are doing this. I enjoyed reading your answers!

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  28. I'd never heard of this fairy tale either but it does sound very good. When I first saw that title though, I admit I thought .. doesn't Murakami have a book with a similar title? Course I just looked it up and his is "South of the Border, West of the Sun". Any connection at all, I wonder? Have you read it?

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  29. bunnybrebre@yahoo.com e-mail meJun 11, 2009, 1:01:00 AM

    Hello,
    My name is Breanna Sue Richards. After checking East out of m y public library i bought a copy fpr myself. After reading East for the 6th time i bought Hero's Song. I just recieved it by mail. I have read the 1st chapter and already fell in love with it.
    Big Fan, Breanna S. RIchards

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.