New Release Review and Giveaway: The Wild Girl

Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl (2013, US edition 2015)

WildGirlOnce upon a time, there was a young girl who fell in love with the boy next door. He was handsome, clever, and kind, but much too poor to think of marriage, and her stern and forbidding father kept her closely guarded. Only after many years of trials and delays were the couple able to marry, and build a happier life together.

This is no fairy tale, but the true story of Dortchen Wild, who became the wife of Wilhelm Grimm, editor with his brother Jakob of the famous German story collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen. While little is known about her — not much more than the bare outline above — out of these scraps of material Kate Forsyth has woven a moving and compelling novel that demonstrates the power of stories to reveal and heal our innermost souls.

For one thing we do know about Dortchen is that she was a storyteller. She told Wilhelm a quarter of the tales included in the first edition of the Grimm collection, although she and other contributors were uncredited and remained largely ignored throughout most of the ensuing reprints and revisions. The brothers wanted to emphasize the roots of the tales in old Germanic tradition, not how they were filtered through the imagination of a nineteen-year-old girl. And while their deep universality and archetypal value have become clear over the past two centuries, it’s still intriguing to wonder what individual experiences might have shaped the stories and their tellers. With so little else to go by, what do Dortchen’s stories tell us about her? They are some of the most beautiful, extraordinary, and puzzling of the whole collection, including the disturbing “Coat of Many Furs,” with its themes of incest, oppression, and silence. Where did they come from, and what happened to the girl who told them?

Without reducing these stories to mere personal allegories, Forsyth imaginatively reconstructs a possible life for Dortchen that is as dark and grim as the tales themselves, but ultimately as uplifting and redemptive. Along the way she also illuminates the place, time, and people that gave them birth, to which I’m embarrassed to say I never gave a thought before. I never considered the plight of the Germanic kingdoms under Napoleonic rule, the fight to preserve their heritage as they were being overrun by French and Russian soldiers, having their young men conscripted into a doomed army, their wealth and resources ruined and lost by puppet kings. I never thought of how determined and brave the Grimm brothers were to keep at their task of preserving stories and poems that many must have thought useless at such a turbulent time, even though they were so poor they could hardly keep body and soul together. And above all, I never wondered who told them these stories, or what gave them their sources of spiritual strength and power.

I’m so glad that Kate Forsyth brought these questions to light, and that in The Wild Girl she has crafted them into such a rich story of love, suffering, and redemption. We may never know most of the objective facts of Dortchen’s life, but for the time of this telling she can live for us again, in a way that is true to the nature and essence of her marvelous tales.

I’m delighted to be able to offer a copy of The Wild Girl courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books. This giveaway will run through July 7 and is open to US entrants age 18 and over. Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter, and good luck!

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29 thoughts on “New Release Review and Giveaway: The Wild Girl

  1. This sounds a marvellous book, Lory, so glad you’ve introduced this. What you say about Dortchen sounds familiar, and I’ve never got round to acquiring a translation of those early editions before her tales were ‘improved’ and redacted out of recognition.

    The only other anecdote I knew was that after her marriage Dortchen and the two brothers lived together under one roof, though I hope nothing salacious emerged out of that! Cornelia Funke plays on these motifs (brothers, girlfriend and fairytales) in her Mirrorworld novels.


    1. Nothing salacious there, no! Although the close relationship between the brothers is an important element (and sometimes a source of tension). Thanks for pointing me to Cornelia Funke’s books — I have not read those and now I’d be especially interested.


  2. Lory, I should warn you that the Funke Mirrorworld books (two so far) riff on the Grimms and their collection but are very much set in the 21st century and very much dark fantasy. I found them interesting but, as with Cornelia Funke’s other fantasies, not totally successful (despite promising concepts).


  3. I have always been fascinated by the Grimm’s tales. When I was teaching middle school I had a big unit focusing on the original fairy tales, not the cleaned up Disney versions.


  4. This sounds so very good. Tying the contents of an authors work to their life experiences can be risky but if done thoughtfully can yield fascinating insights.

    Your review of this book is reminding me that I need to read the Grimm fairytales in their entirety.


  5. Wow, this sounds like a wonderful book! Like you, I’ve never really thought much about the people who told the stories the Grimms collected, nor the historical context in which the brothers collected those tales. It sounds as though the author has done a terrific job of imagining and fleshing out those questions in the person of Dortchen. I am definitely intrigued and will put this on my reading list.


  6. I loved Bitter Greens, and this is the first blog feature I’ve seen on Kate Forsyth’s latest — which I am putting near the top of my to-read list at once! Thanks for featuring this exciting new American release and for the chance to win. Cheers, Kara S


  7. This book sounds wonderful! I’ve wanted to read this ever since finishing Bitter Greens. I love this sort of new take on fairy tales. Thanks for the giveaway!


  8. This book sounds really good, and I cannot wait to read it! Great review, and thanks for the giveaway!


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