Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Historical Fiction-ish: The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel by Magdalena Zyzak

Publisher: Henry Holt
Date: January 14, 2014
Format: ARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 270
Reading time: five or six days

From GoodReads: Set in the quaint (though admittedly backward) fictional nation of Scalvusia in 1939, The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel follows the exploits of a young swineherd with romantic delusions of grandeur. Desperate to attract the voluptuous Roosha, the Gypsy concubine of the local boot-and-shoe magnate, Barnabas and his short-legged steed Wilhelm get embroiled in a series of scandals and misadventures, as every attempt at wooing ends in catastrophe. After the mysterious death of an important figure in the community, a witch-hunt ensues, and a stranger falls from the sky. Barnabas begins to see the terrible tide of history turning in his beloved hometown. The wonderfully eccentric supporting cast includes a priest driven mad by a fig tree, a gang of louts who taunt our reluctant hero at every turn, and a dim-witted vagabond with a goat for a wife. 

My review: I'm not entirely sure what the whole point of this novel was, but it was fun. There's a lot of cool stuff to compare it to - The Mouse That Roared series by Leonard Wibberley, Don Quixote, long humorous picaresque novels of the 18th century, classic parodies in general, and hints of absurdism. The book wasn't laugh-out-loud funny for me, but it was quite amusing the entire way through.

I guess what got me, though, is just the lack of any apparent reason behind everything. It's a fun read, yes, but what points is the author trying to make about history, particularly with regards to small 20th century European nations and villages? It felt like some kind of message is there but never comes through entirely. This message is what would have turned a delightful read into something deeper that makes the story stick with the reader past the conclusion of the book.

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