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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The darker side of "Wicked" . . .
Like many people, I read "Was" immediately after "Wicked."

Both books cover the same topic ("The Wizard of Oz") but they have different approaches, different agendas, different topics entirely. They're both excellent and really shouldn't be compared.

Whereas "Wicked" gives us a non-traditional view of what's _inside_ Oz, "Was" takes us into the more...
Published on January 24, 2005 by Traveler

versus
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To Hell and Back
A while back, I read the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire and I asn't all that thrilled with it. I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was constantly anticipating the events and trying to match them up with what happened in the original story. Whatever it was, it kept me from...
Published on December 6, 2001 by M. J. Musante


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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The darker side of "Wicked" . . ., January 24, 2005
By 
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Like many people, I read "Was" immediately after "Wicked."

Both books cover the same topic ("The Wizard of Oz") but they have different approaches, different agendas, different topics entirely. They're both excellent and really shouldn't be compared.

Whereas "Wicked" gives us a non-traditional view of what's _inside_ Oz, "Was" takes us into the more disturbing realms of reality. We see Dorothy as a human placed in horrible circumstances. We get a glimpse behind the curtain to see the suffering of "Judy Garland." And then Ryman brings it all together with a modern day scarecrow dying of AIDS.

"Wicked" was a fantastic metaphor. It made you think. It gave us imagery to wonder at and ponder. "Was" strips most of that away and attempts to give us a possible story behind the metaphor. As in, if Dorothy was a real person what would she be like?

"Was" is not light reading. It's not intended to be. If you like your fiction to stay out of the shadowy corners of human existence you should avoid this book completely. If, however, you'd like to see a dark vision of reality about Oz give "Was" a try.

It's unfortunate that this book gets slammed for what it clearly was never intended to be - like "Wicked." Both books are great. But they have different fish to fry.

I only give the book four stars because Ryman could have have done a better job in his characterization. Still, it's a very good book and will be one of the rare fiction titles that I plan to keep on my shelf indefinitely.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, Disturbing, & Difficult, but Lyrical and Moving, January 20, 2005
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
This dense and disturbing novel offers a look into the life of one Dorothy Gael of Kansas, Ryman's imaginary inspiration for the well-loved Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, and into a bevy of other characters whose lives are touched (directly or indirectly) by her. His Dorothy doesn't have a happy story, and for most of the novel misery carries the day. It is softened by the depths of character and a few moving exemplars of compassion. Wrapped within the novel is a fascinating glimpse into the history of the book and the movie-from its disreputable and unsavory youth to its arrival as a full-blown American classic.

"Was" is not going to be universally appreciated. It is difficult. More than once I found myself reminded of James Joyce; there's a lot going on, and the language isn't always easy to penetrate. The book has something to say about human nature, the way the world and other people break us. Society's response to difference and pain. Homosexuality, child abuse, even the enfeeblement of the aged-the miseries of the human condition are shunned for their power to infect.

I can't say that I always enjoyed this book, though I'm glad I read it. I found it very well written. The characters were in my opinion completely believable. Ryman exhibits a compassion for everyone he writes here, from the least sympathetic to the most. He seems to really understand what drives human beings to the ways they behave, and, unlike the society he represents, he's willing to look at them unflinchingly. I did find the narrative jumps sometimes a little tough to follow; the book required more work than it always rewarded in that regard. But that's in keeping with the rest of this novel, which doesn't spoon-feed you answers. What's the purpose of all this misery? Perhaps it is so that we, like one of the characters, can say, "I'm going to have to do something about all of this."

In this book, in this world, there are Dorothies aplenty, shattered souls who need our help. This resonant novel is a powerful reminder of that fact, an incentive to let them know they are loved.

Through most of this novel I would have called this a 4-star, maybe even a high 3--but I found the final section so gripping and the conclusion so powerful that I wouldn't be doing it justice to give it less than a 5. It may not make its way to your list of classics, but it deserves its placement on mine.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly good, January 1, 2001
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
A few years ago I read Gregory Maguire's take on the Wizard of Oz story in "Wicked" and was entranced with it. When I learned of the existance of "Was" I was excited to see someone else's take on twisting this story. I was not dissappointed. This is an incredibly creative, well written book. It was one of those rare gems in reading where I was completely transported into the pages and felt like I was there with the characters. The parts of the book set in pioneer times were my favorite and made me feel the way I used to feel as a child when I first fell in love with reading. I would recommend this book to everyone. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 was because the entire book was so stellar and then I felt the ending was just too abrupt and anti-climatic.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incandescence, December 24, 1999
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Everyone loves the Wizard of Oz! Geoff Ryman returns us to childhood, the time when the distinction between art and reality was not so clear. He reminds of the time when seeing a movie like the Wizard of Oz was so powerful that it changed our lives, by crawling up into our tiny heads and never coming down. The Wizard of Oz and films like it are to our culture what the Ramayana is to India; it is a narrative shared by the whole culture together, an epic, a source of references that can lead to mutual understanding, an art form that endlessly gives rise to more and more beautiful art. What is in this book? The true, tragic story of Dorothy; real Munchkins and their make-up artist; a man trying to complete a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Ozism before the disease he carries kills him. Geoff Ryman writes like a delirious angel. I read this book more than three years ago and it still haunts me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astoundingly moving, December 11, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Like several others here, I read this book some years ago, soon after it was published, and it has haunted me ever since. It's one of the finest novels I've ever read. I recommend it to everyone.
But unlike some others who've reviewed it here, I have no particular interest in "The Wizard of Oz"--and I don't think that's what the book is about at all. The book is about the search for what was, for home, for safety, for love. It's about how we spend our lives yearning for that perfect security that we had, or think we had, or never had but imagine and long for. About loss--of mother, love, home--and the ways we try to make up for all the losses that accumulate as we age. That's why it is so moving, and why it haunts all who read it. Because everyone has a "was" lingering in memory or subconscious.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously Complex, June 13, 2006
By 
Krista K (United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
'Was' is my favorite Ryman novel (and since I love sf, that's saying a lot). Although I enjoyed Maguire's 'Wicked,' 'Was' does something more complex than retelling 'The Wizard of Oz' - it uses it as a springboard to tell a much more compellingly human story - one of incestuous rape, loneliness, fractured families, lost desire and AIDS. Weaving 3 main alternate storylines into a fascinating whole, Ryman nonetheless arrives at a destination that's far more positive than the desolation my last sentence implies.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A chilling take on Oz, July 13, 2008
By 
Melissa Niksic (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
"Was" is author Geoff Ryman's fascinating yet disturbing twist on the classic "Wizard of Oz" story. This novel shifts back and forth between several characters who are all connected to the Oz saga. First there's Dorothy Gael, an orphan growing up on a Kansas farm with her Aunty Em and Uncle Henry. However, Dorothy's home life isn't identical to the way it's portrayed in the iconic film. Aunty Em isn't a loving, maternal figure at all: she's cold and methodical, occasionally bearing a striking resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West. Uncle Henry is a smelly old farmer who shows little interest in Dorothy until she becomes a young woman, which is Henry begins molesting her. These tragic experiences transform innocent little Dorothy into a vile, wicked girl who is unable to be saved. In addition to Dorothy, "Was" also tells the story of the young Judy Garland and her depressing rise to fame, and Jonathan, an AIDS patient who has had a strong attachment to Oz that dates back to his miserable childhood.

Ryman puts a brilliant new spin on one of the most famous stories of all time, but "Was" isn't exactly pleasant reading...and it's not intended to be. This is a very dark, gritty story that forces readers to reexamine popular characters from fiction and real life and reconsider what life was truly like for them. "Was" is an interesting story, one that I highly recommend for all "Wizard of Oz" fanatics. Also, this novel was turned into a wonderful play, which I saw produced in Chicago in the 1990s. I wish it was performed more often, but my guess is that it's probably too disturbing for most audiences.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To Hell and Back, December 6, 2001
By 
M. J. Musante (Westford, MA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
A while back, I read the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire and I asn't all that thrilled with it. I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was constantly anticipating the events and trying to match them up with what happened in the original story. Whatever it was, it kept me from enjoying it as much as others have.
So when Was was recommended to me, I approached it not without a little trepidation, but this time I got all the way through without problems.
Not the most glowing of reviews, but there you are.
How about this instead: I didn't like the book, but I couldn't put it down. Allow me to pull out the old "train wreck" metaphor. You know the one -- where you don't want to watch because it's so horrible, but you can't help but stare in fascination.
Ryman's premise is that Baum, the original author, met a Dorothy in Kansas from whom he (Baum) got the inspriation for his story. The problem is that this Dorothy is evil. Or she becomes evil, thanks to her good old Auntie Em. The defining moment of the book was at the end of the second chapter; the very last sentence of that chapter, in fact. I don't want to give it away here, since it would lose its impact, but I think you'll know it when you read it.
As Ryman takes Dorothy from innocent youth to crotchety old woman, it's hard not to watch, with increasing disbelief, at the amazingly horrible life he pushes her through. First her dog (Toto) is killed, then her new friend dies, then she's becomes an outcast at school, and then her Uncle Henry starts sexually abusing her, and then... well, you begin to get the picture.
So, as I sat there, not enjoying, but not wanting to stop reading, I had to wonder. This book was recommended to me by more than one person; what had they seen it it that made it worthy of recommendation? I'm not questioning their taste. Quite the opposite: I'm questioning my own. Why didn't I like this book as much as they did? It's certainly well-written, and the plot is exceptionally well constructed. Ryman does a great job of pulling fragments of coincidences together to make his story work. So, on that level, at least, it's worthy of recommendation.
I've spent several weeks thinking about this book now, trying to come up with "what it all means." And maybe that's a good thing to say about a book -- any book -- that it makes you think. But there must be other ways, other stories, other means by which one can get one's point across.
Maybe Ryman's concern was that, if I enjoyed the story, I wouldn't think about it, or think about what happened to Dorothy and thank any higher being which may exist that it wasn't me.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak, December 8, 2000
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This review is from: Was (Paperback)
This book was fascinating; I did not want to put it down. The author has a wonderful writing style. He ties together a number of disparate but connected storylines seamlessly. However, I found all these stories to be almost relentlessly bleak. This book left me depressed. If only this talented writer would turn his talent to writing something with a little more hope!
If you want to read an intelligent, well-written novel, based on the story of Oz (from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West) that is also great fun, I would highly recommend _Wicked_ by Gregory MaGuire.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, emotionally wrenching work of art, August 11, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
My husband and I are visual artists for whom watching "The Wizard of Oz" every year on TV was an important part of our childhoods, so we were intrigued by the subject of the book. "Was" is so intense, neither of us could read it straight through; we sort of had to rest from it every so often. We were impressed by the skillfullness with which the author weaves so many disparate characters and settings, in ways that not only further his plot but burnish the memories and childhood longings that the "Oz" movie elicits. "Was" serves both as an homage to the artistry of L. Frank Baum, Judy Garland, and the Hollywood movie and as a strong work of art in itself. We now want to read more by this author.
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Was (Fantasy Masterworks)
Was (Fantasy Masterworks) by Geoff Ryman (Paperback - January 13, 2005)
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