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Enchanting, A Little Disappointed
on April 1, 2013
When I first received the suggestion to read Briar Rose, I formed high expectations. I just love history and value the importance of retelling such a dark chapter in human history that is the Holocaust. Jane Yolen managed to weave a clever web of symbolism and allegory, effectively combining a modified sleeping beauty with a tale of survival. However, in the end two dimensional characters and trifling writing style marred my overall experience.
"Time may heal all wounds, but it does not erase the scars."
Throughout the book the reader receives two intertwined stories. An italicized portion which retells Genma's Sleeping Beauty along with Becca's childhood and the present story of an adult Becca who pursues Genma's past. Each italicized chapter revealed more hints and clues through the modifications Genma made to the story: describing thorns like barbs, etc. This part enchanted me, it was simultaneously warm and haunting. On the other hand, I was severely disappointed with the present day story. The characters lacked a lot of depth. Shana and Sylvia, the two elder sisters, did not have any unique characteristics. I still can't differentiate them, both were self-absorbed and not willing to understand Becca or Genma. I feel as if their only purpose was as antitheses to Becca: the special, loyal granddaughter.
Which brings me to the characterization of Becca. She is loyal, stubborn, and caring. Though she is one of the better characters in the novel, I feel she could have been so much more. But the interference of Stan, her boss, stunned her growth. There were many instances in which Becca should have taken the initiative. Instead, all of the sudden Stan came up with motivations, plans, and connections. Still, even though I felt he was a bit off pudding at times, he was overall a better rounded character than Becca's sisters: officious yet insightful.
"Fairy Tales always have a happy ending,"
"That depends... on whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen."
-Becca and Stan
I enjoyed the last half of the book much more than the first half. It went into detail about Polish life and culture, which I found very interesting. Yolen explored some often forgotten topics of the Holocaust and introduced dynamic characters. At one point it becomes more than just Genma's story, it becomes a dark, gripping homage to the victims and of the survivors. I also appreciated this section due to the lack of unnecessary details, which plagued the beginning part. Details breathe life into the story but, in this case they fragmented it. One moment Becca is looking over her grandmothers documents and the next her parents are fighting over popcorn in the next room and then back to Becca. Little smudges like that reduced my overall enjoyment of the novel.
In the end, the novel transmitted a powerful message of suffering, fairy tales, and heroism. Unfortunately that transmission was intercepted by static characters and an excess of pointless detail. Yolen was able to deftly utilize allegory and symbolism to craft a unique story that I managed to enjoy despite its glitches.