The Saskiad

Brain Hall, Author, Brian Hall, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-395-82754-3
A precocious 12-year-old narrator animates this beguiling coming-of-age story, a blend of mythical, literary and philosophical themes that flows easily between the concrete details of the heroine's contemporary life and the spinning worlds of her fantasies. Intelligent, spirited Saskia grows up on a 1960s-style commune in upstate New York. The classical name of the nearest city, Ithaca, informs Saskia's adventurous imagination; she dreams she is a cohort of Odysseus, a disciple of Marco Polo, a friend of 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe. Her mother, Lauren, is a gorgeous, stolidly independent organic farmer who runs the commune. Saskia's father, Thomas, abandoned the family many years earlier, about the same time the commune's then-guru went insane, accosted his followers with sadistic violence and supposedly killed himself. Awkward Saskia is thrilled when Jane Singh, a new student at school ""beautiful as a gazelle,"" becomes her friend. Jane, happy to play roles in Saskia's imaginary adventures, doesn't seem to notice or mind that she's the object of Saskia's sexual crush. Out of the blue, Thomas invites Saskia to visit him in Denmark. With Lolita-sultry Jane in tow, Saskia reunites with her father, who is now an eco-activist trying to save a valley in Norway from being destroyed by a dam. As Thomas builds himself up in Saskia's eyes as a valiant activist, he also accepts Jane's tentative sexual advances. After Thomas agrees to return home to reunite with Lauren, Saskia learns some shocking truths about her father, which prompt her to run away to Manhattan. Finally, Saskia returns home with a great trust in herself and understanding of her life. Despite Hall's many allusions to great works of literature, his prose tends more towards gentle humor and he doesn't belabor the obvious parallels between Odysseus and Thomas, Lauren and Penelope, etc. He has woven a compelling tale that deftly questions hero-worship while at the same time constructing in Saskia an inventive heroine who should strike a chord with readers who loved Joestein Gaarder's Sophie's World. Rights sold in 11 countries; author tour. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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