Monday, October 6, 2014

Bitter Greens: A Braided Narrative Lends Insights Into Rapunzel and Its Context

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The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love

02_Bitter Greens
French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens...

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.


Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth combines a re-telling of the fairy tale Rapunzel with the life story of the woman whose version of this tale is the one that is most widely told today.  Her name was Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force.  Here’s a brief biography of Charlotte-Rose that appeared on the blog of author Charlotte Henley Babb who has written fractured fairy tales.  Charlotte-Rose’s title of her fairy tale was Persinette.  The Grimms gave it the title Rapunzel when they later adapted it.   I received Bitter Greens from Net Galley and this is my review.

The ideal reader for this book would be someone who loves both historical fiction and fairy tales.  The reader who dislikes one of these types of narratives is likely to find a large portion of the novel rather tiresome. Fortunately, I am one of those readers who does enjoy both. 

For me, the most interesting aspect of Bitter Greens is its structure.  The two story lines are braided like Rapunzel’s hair.  They share themes.  All the female characters struggle for independence, and the power to decide their own destinies.  These themes are also uncovered in the life story of the witch who confined Rapunzel.  She too had to fight for the freedom to make her own choices, but her fears still bound her. This background on the witch makes her a more sympathetic character even though she remains a dark element in the Rapunzel story.  The witch’s fears are common ones with which most people contend—the fear of aging and death.  So I consider this novel both feminist and deeply human.

Another strand in the braided narrative was Italian folk religion.  It was revealed in the re-telling of the witch’s story.  I discovered pre-Christian practices in her family heritage.  I won’t discuss them any further in order to avoid spoilers.  I’ll only add that when I researched them, I located a book dealing with them that sounds very interesting.  A piece of fiction that is based on fact provides opportunities for further research. Such a book is like an open door.  Once all the strands are unraveled readers can leave Rapunzel’s tower to travel onward, and learn more.

I also found out a great deal that I hadn’t fully understood about the reign of Louis XIV from Bitter Greens.  He is called The Sun King because there were illustrious authors that arose during his reign. Yet after I read about the events in the life of Charlotte-Rose, I wanted to change the soubriquet of Louis XIV to The Eclipse King.  I knew that the Edict of Nantes, the royal decree that granted toleration to French Protestants, had been revoked.  I just didn’t associate that event with Louis XIV.  I also tended to associate persecution of French Protestants with the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars and Catherine de Medici, but the persecution after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was severe.  According to the page on The United Protestant Church of France , almost a quarter of French Protestants emigrated during this period.  Among them was the father of a prominent figure in the American Revolution, Paul Revere.  Paul Revere’s father was originally named Apollos Rivoire.  Apollos Rivoire was sent to America at the age of 13 by his Protestant family, so that he could have the freedom of worship that French Protestants had lost during the reign of Louis XIV. 

I hope that I have communicated that this is an amazing novel with a number of facets that are developed in depth. 

I am looking forward to The Wild Girl, another exploration of fairy tales by Kate Forsyth dealing with the Brothers Grimm.    So long as Forsyth continues along this path, I will remain an eager member of her audience.


Publication Date: September 23, 2014 | Thomas Dunne Books | Hardcover; 496p | ISBN-10: 1250047536

Genre: Historical/Fantasy/Fairy-Tale Retellings

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About the Author

Kate Forsyth 1Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling & award-winning author of thirty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was recently voted one of Australia's Favourite 20 Novelists, and has been called 'one of the finest writers of this generation. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers, and has told stories to both children and adults all over the world.

Her most recent book for adults is a historical novel called 'The Wild Girl', which tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, 'The Wild Girl' is a story of love, war, heartbreak, and the redemptive power of storytelling, and was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013.

She is probably most famous for 'Bitter Greens', a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. 'Bitter Greens' has been called 'the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter', and has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award.

Her most recent book for children is 'Grumpy Grandpa', a charming picture book that shows people are not always what they seem.

Since 'The Witches of Eileanan' was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She's also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series – beginning with 'The Gypsy Crown' - which tells of the adventures of two Romany children in the time of the English Civil War. Book 5 of the series, 'The Lightning Bolt', was also a CBCA Notable Book.

Kate's books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing.

Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, 'A Mother's Offering to her Children'. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.

For more information please visit Kate Forsyth's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Bitter Greens Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 15
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, September 16
Review at Kinx's Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at Bookish
Wednesday, September 17
Review & Giveaway at Literary, etc
Review & Giveaway at Book Drunkard
Thursday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at Build a Bookshelf
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader
Friday, September 19
Review at The Maiden's Court
Review & Giveaway at Icey Books
Monday, September 22
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at A Dream Within a Dream
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, September 23
Review at Book Dilettante
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at SurLaLune
Wednesday, September 24
Review at Caroline Wilson Writes
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at Ink Gypsy
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at The Lit Bitch
Thursday, September 25
Review & Giveaway at No BS Book Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Friday, September 26
Review at The Gilmore Guide to Books
Review at Must Read Faster
Monday, September 29
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review & Giveaway at Bookworm Blues
Tuesday, September 30
Review at The Life & Times of a Book Addict
Review & Excerpt at Books-n-Kisses
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, October 1
Review at One Book at a Time
Review at Book-alicious Mama
Review & Giveaway at Mina's Bookshelf
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, October 2
Interview at Layered Pages
Review & Giveaway at Oh Magic Hour
Friday, October 3
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Review & Giveaway at Gone Pecan
Sunday, October 5
Review at Carole's Ramblings
Monday, October 6
Review at Book Babe
Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews
Interview, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Harlequin Junkie
Tuesday, October 7
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review & Giveaway at The Pretty Good Gatsby
Wednesday, October 8
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Review & Giveaway at My Friends Are Fiction
Thursday, October 9
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Friday, October 10
Review at Mel's Shelves
Review & Giveaway at No More Grumpy Bookseller
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Monday, October 13
Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Layers of Thought
Tuesday, October 14
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Review & Giveaway at Beth's Book Reviews
Wednesday, October 15
Review at Crossroad Review
Review at My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews
Thursday, October 16
Review at Cheryl's Book Nook
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Friday, October 17
Review at Mary Gramlich
Review at She Reads Novels
Monday, October 20
Interview & Giveaway at The Reading Frenzy

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