Sunday, 6 July 2008
If I Told You Once by Judy Budnitz
This is a story about stories. Stories that people tell, stories that people believe and stories about things that have happened. The plot follows four generations of women, the oldest of whom was born in the Northern European forests of snow, and who emigrates to America where her family grows. Told by the four women themselves, this story has an added injection of folklore and superstition which continues through the more western life in the States and provides another dimension to the novel. Interpretation, myth or reality, all of life is as real as the person who tells the story believes it to be, and here we have four points of view, four realities.
Llana is the matriarch, mysterious and strong, in touch with the 'old ways', who survives a climate (meterological and political) to find love and a new life. Sashie, her daughter is very different and rejects her mothers traditional roots for the 'clean' American way. Mara is the grandaughter, the darkest character, whose view is almost sociopathic. Finally Nomie in the present day, who is closest to Llana and sees the truth through her eyes.
All four have a distinctive voice in the narrative, but it is Llana from the old country who is the strongest presence and provides the pivot that all other characters revolve around, and finally circle back to.
Some of the novel feels like a series of short fairystories, especially the first part in Europe. This is emphasised by the short punchy sentences. The first 20 pages were a captivating opening into Llana's world, and raced away without me noticing that I was enveloped in the plot.
Some of the stories later in the book are more ambiguous and left unexplained, like Sashie's cleaners, or Mara's ladder to the sky. Reality, story or delusion? This sometimes left me frustrated but it also leads you to ask what is reality?
Budnitz pulls no punches in illustrating the horrific episodes in life too, like in war, with poignant descriptions and the economy of words adding to the distasteful scenes. Every fairystory has some sense of the horrific, a wolf lurking in grandma's clothing. Budnitz employs all of these tales we were brought up on with fascination and wonder.
This is not a long book but the time scale (early 20th century, through World War II, to the present day) gives it an epic feel which led me to a few tears at the ending. A very enjoyable book and an interesting voice to look out for.
To read an interview with Judy Budnitz about the book and her writing, click on this link:-