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Under the Poppy: a novel Hardcover – November 9, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Under the Poppy Series

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Editorial Reviews


"The brothel of Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy requires no time and space coordinates. It is a fictional universe unto itself—rich and bawdy and violent and sad, with a beating human heart underneath. I love Koja’s daring and flair."
—Louis Bayard, author of The Black Tower

"Koja can pack a lot Dickensian humor into a sentence . . . [she] takes a page from Victorian lit in her writerliness, and she reveals human nature like someone slipped her the manual."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"This book made me drunk. Koja’s language is at its poetic best, and the epic drama had me digging my nails into my palms. It’s like a Tom Waits hurdy-gurdy loser’s lament come to life, as sinister as a dark circus."
—Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

"Unlike anything I’ve ever read, a world unto itself, spun out of fevered, sensual prose and vivid, compelling characters."
—Lewis Shiner

"A gothic, glam-rock take on love and sex and death that reads a little like what would happen if Sarah Waters and Angela Carter played a drunken game of Exquisite Corpse in a brothel . . . will make you want to get out your very finest crushed velvet, drink a couple bottles of wine, and do something a little bit illegal with someone very good-looking. In other words, it’s a winner."

"All the elements of a great novel are present in Koja’s work: from suspense and intrigue to undying love and toxic jealousies, this highly developed read is brimming with imaginative flair and originality."
—Lambda Literary

"People will probably love this book or hate it–possibly both. But let me just say that it would take an author of extraordinary talent to open with a scene of a woman being sodomized by a ventriloquist’s dummy and make me want to keep reading. And Kathe Koja is that talented. Five stars."
—Speak Its Name

"The velvet and brocade, the rips and tears, the music and theater, you see it all as you read about what the denizens of the Poppy do to stay in business, stay ahead of the tide, stay alive."
—Colleen Mondor, Chasing Ray

"Frequently changing viewpoints and fluid segues in and out of flashback illuminate actions readers have already witnessed. Part of the fun is heading into the past after knowing the future; even when you know where the story will go, you wonder what will happen next."
Ann Arbor Observer

"I loved Under the Poppy. It pours like chocolate—laced with brandy; sexy and utterly compelling!"
—Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint

"An atmospheric tale for those who like their historical fiction on the dark and lurid side. Those readers who enjoyed Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin or Sarah Water’s Fingersmith will find similar themes.”
Library Journal

“A page turner with riveting language and close attention to sensory detail. Set in late 19th-century Brussels, the story follows the adventures of puppeteer Istvan and brothel owner Rupert who bond as friends and lovers.”
Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Kathe Koja’s books include The Cipher, Skin, and Extremities; YA novels include Buddha Boy, Talk, Kissing the Bee, and Headlong. Her work has been honored by the ALA, the ASPCA, the Parents’ Choice Award, and the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. Her books have been published in seven languages, and optioned for film. She’s a Detroit native and lives in the area with her husband, artist Rick Lieder, and their cats. Under the Poppy is currently being adapted for the stage.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Small Beer Press; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931520704
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931520706
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,521,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lewis Shiner on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
UNDER THE POPPY is unlike anything I've ever read, a world unto itself, spun out of fevered, sensual prose and vivid, compelling characters.

The Poppy is a brothel in an unspecified Victorian-era city, offering theatrical performances as well as sex. The first half of the book moves at a lightning pace as lovers are reunited, war threatens and arrives, and mounting crises end in a bloody climax.

In the second half of the book the Poppy is only a memory; major characters have disappeared, never to be heard from again. The setting has now expanded to the whole of Western Europe. The war is over, but the intrigues and linked fates that began at the Poppy (and earlier) are still being played out. It's a reversal of the normal structure for a novel on this size canvas, starting with world-shattering events and then shifting to the personal--more like a novel and its sequel under a single set of covers. But Koje is not playing by anybody's rules other than her own, and I never felt the urge to argue with her.

The most obvious influence is Brecht and Weill's THREEPENNY OPERA, with a bit of Dickens and a hint of CABARET, but none of those comparisons prepare you for Istvan's grotesque and unsettling puppets, or the machinations of the General, who might have stepped from a play by Yevgeny Schwartz, or the agonized romanticism of the doomed poet Benjamin.

If you are only familiar with Koje's wonderful YA novels, be aware that this is a very adult novel--but no less passionate, intense, and moving.
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Format: Hardcover
Am a virgin when it comes to novels by Kathe Koja. When i first received my copy of Under the Poppy, i thought that this was Koja's debut. After doing a bit of research (a.k.a google), i found out that the author has written quite a few other books including The Cipher and YA novels such as Budda Boy and Going Under. The most amazing part of my research was finding out that some of the author's books were considered for film or the theater. In fact Under the Poppy (which by the way is being released on November 9th) is one such novel that is being adapted for theater production. If this wasn't an indicator of the author's literary prowess then the rave reviews for her other books certainly tipped me over the edge.

So now that i have set the stage for this novel, let me delve in by saying Under the Poppy is a story unlike anything you have ever read. Its a historical fiction that reads like a drama complete with all of the sophisticated prose reminiscent of Shakespeare. I loved the fact that after reading a sentence i sometimes paused to think about the subliminal messages in it. The setting is 1800s Brussels and while i didn't so much get a feel for the location, i did however enjoy all of the juicy drama that took place within and surrounding The Poppy.

There is a large amount of sex in the story (and it comes with the territory since The Poppy is a unique brothel). Sex between men and women, men and men, men, women and puppets, women and puppets. If you get alarmed at this point, don't. The scenes are all tastefully done and the author sticks to the time period so words that would usually make us blush when said out loud are actually written in code.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a birthday gift and I am forever indebted to the giver for introducing me to Kathe Koja's work. I barely know where to start with this review because I am so enamored of both story and style that it's difficult for me to separate the two. And perhaps I shouldn't even try. Koja's writing is dense, often difficult. She does things no writer should ever do, but she does them so adeptly that they feel right. Her use of language is part of what makes "Under the Poppy" so, well... addictive, I would say since the phrase itself -- under the poppy -- means to be in an opium dream. And Koja's story does seem to qualify.

This is a murky, complicated story in which things are not always explained, people do not always have happy endings, and events are not always what they seem to be. The first half of the story focuses mainly on a strange triangle. There is Decca, the madam of the brothel known as Under the Poppy. Rupert is her "front man," a job that is a little bit of the businessman, a little bit of the bouncer, a little bit of the host. Opinion is divided on these two; are they siblings? Lovers? Both? Into the house comes a puppet master named Istvan who clearly raises some strong emotions in both Decca and Rupert. Much of the first half of the book is the playing out of the emotional script between the three of them. The second half begins as a new triangle: Rupert, Istvan and Lucy, but rapidly becomes a series of interconnected triangles, and new relationships that reiterate old ones in curious patterns.

Koja presents us with a cast of characters who are all-too-human, who do terrible things to each other, never seem to quite know what they want (Save for Istvan, and even he is brought up short on a few occasions.
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