THE SASKIAD by Brian Hall


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 Saskia, a bright, sardonic, fiercely imaginative adolescent, offers a salty record of her coming-of-age in this sharply observant novel. Hall, a novelist (The Dreamers, 1988) and an accomplished travel writer (The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia, 1994, etc.), is clearly fascinated by outsized, complex characters. Saskia, at 12, is the most responsible figure in a ramshackle farm on the outskirts of Ithaca. The farm was once a commune (Wonderland), and Lauren, Saskia's mother, who stayed on after its collapse, ekes out a sufficient living from farming to support some hapless eccentrics attracted by her unquestioning generosity. Saskia herself, who loves books, finds time, while overseeing much of the day-to-day life on the farm, for an exuberant fantasy life, weaving together a world based on her affection for such heroes as Odysseus, Marco Polo, and Horatio Hornblower. She's drawn out of herself by a growing friendship with the elegant, worldly Jane Singh (13), and by the arrival of her long-absent father, the charismatic Thomas. (He's been away for so long, he says, because he's been an eco-warrior, going so far as to sabotage a whaling vessel.) Thomas, however, turns out to be manipulative, selfish, and rather alarmingly pleased with Jane's growing crush on him. He's also an extraordinary liar. Faced with a variety of disasters, Saskia grows up, doing what she can to save her friend and coming to grips with her own past--all within a portrait of commune life that's painfully convincing. Hall's cast of characters is very precisely drawn, but most remarkable is his portrait of Saskia. Part child, part alert young woman, she is entirely believable, and her narrative, slyly observant, filled with references to her beloved books, unblinking in its depiction of adult foibles, is compelling. Finally, Saskia's hard-won accommodation with life at the climax is moving, offering a realistic and satisfying conclusion to a highly original novel. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-395-82754-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996


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