Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Visit the German Borderlands in Rennefarre

Today we visit the borderlands of East Germany in a modern translation of a wonderful piece of children's and young adult literature - Rennefarre.  This fantasy piece combines the feel of classic literature with the rich characterization and setting of fantasy ala The Hobbit.  It is my pleasure to bring this story review to you.

Book Summary:
Imagine riding on the back of a blue heron across time and space. Imagine befriending crows, being kidnapped by magpies, and being given a lift on the back of a kindly stag. Imagine experiencing life as an outcast from human society, encountering spirits and mythical creatures from the world of legends, experiencing the plague in Dresden, and being chased through Berlin by Frederick the Great.

Dott is a twelve-year old girl. She lives in the countryside east of Berlin in an unspecified time between the two world wars. When Dott sneaks out to see the bonfire at the edge of her village on the evening of the midsummer night festival, she has no idea what will happen next. In the dark of night, the magical Rennefarre flower falls into her shoe. It not only makes her invisible, but also allows her to see things no one else could see. No longer able to stay with her parents and her young brother and sister, she begins her search to find a way out of her predicament.

Her quest to return home to her family winds its way through the cities and countryside of 20th century Germany—and beyond. As she befriends the local animals, they help her on her way with gifts of food, shelter, and—through the help of a kind spirit—a magical cup which allows her to become small and ride on the backs of the birds.

Flying across the country on the backs of crows and herons, Dott finds herself seeing the country not only as it is, but also as it used to be. She lives through moments in history others can only read about—meeting historical kings and fanciful spirits along the way. But, even with all of the excitement of her travels, she always has one goal in mind: returning home to her family.

Part coming-of-age story, part fantasy, and part social-cultural portrait of Eastern Germany in the early part of the 20th century, the book covers real ground. That is, one could follow Dott's travels on a map of the area. Seamlessly blending elements of fantasy and history, the book contains a fascinating array of details of day-to-day life in rural and urban areas in eastern Germany. Dott’s adventures are interwoven with folklore and myths as well as vivid accounts of different eras and the diverse cultural and ethnic strains that have formed the basis for a rich and complex history of Germany and Eastern Europe. Written on the eve of World War II, the book offers a sobering perspective on the human potential for causing devastation. At the same time it is filled with hope. In one scene, Dott gets a glimpse of the future — an utterly destroyed cityscape; it inspires her to look to her own responsibilities and actions in life.

My Review:
This book was truly a pleasure to read.  The original German was written prior to the events surrounding World War II and the storyline reflects the damage we humans are capable of with one another as well as the effects on the world and creatures around us.  It reads like a classic piece of literature, slowly building the characters, setting, and events that lead to the heart of the storyline.  Understand this going into Rennefarre.  It is a disappointment that so many people of our world today don't have the patience to stick with a rich story long enough to allow it to touch the heart and soul. 

Dott is a young girl who disobeys her parents then finds herself enchanted on the evening of the summer solstice when the rennefarre flower finds its way into her shoe, turning her invisible to all around her and driving her from her family and village.  However, she has been granted the opportunity to understand the speech of birds and animals, see other enchanted humans and creatures, and to assist all enchanted creatures and animals alike.

Through her enchanted state, Dott is able to see the magical and mystical and even travel through time to see how Germany was inhabited, fought over and conquered, and how she can help those on whom she has come to depend. 

Gurian, the heron, comes to her aid after she saves the life of one of his young.  Cornix, the old and wise crow, is one of the first to befriend her in her lonely state.  But Pica Pica, the magpie, is waiting in the wings to wisk her away out of spite from her new-found friends.  Through all of her travels in the air and through time, Dott begins to understand her responsibilities and the responsibility all humans have to care for one another and the earth around us.

She places herself in danger to save those she comes to care for.  Dott also seeks the cure for her baby sister, who has long been ill and is in danger of dying.  Because of her ability to learn the importance of responsibility for oneself as well as others, she just might be able to find her way back to her family and her normal human way of life.  But to do so, she will lose the ability to talk to the animals and see the fire sprite and other enchanted beings.

There were times in reading the historical references where I wanted to pick up another history book and start researching again.  It really spoke to my penchant for history and might pique the interest of other young souls to explore the topic.  The settings were beautifully portrayed and the proud heron, Gurian, you felt so sorry for when he lost his family.  The story, however, never devolved into a rant against the human race - quite the contrary.  It spoke to the possibility of every single human soul toward the ability of greatness.  Makes me think of the line from Spiderman - with great power comes great responsibility.

And Rennefarre displayed that wonderfully for all to read.

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Malve von Hassell's Bio:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph. D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published several books and journal articles, in particular, The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schlie├čt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012), and completed a manuscript for a historical fiction book set in the 13th century for young adults, Falconello. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades.  Visit her website at http://www.malvevonhassell.com/

Price/Format: $13.99 paperback
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
ISBN: 9781938690389
Pages: 297
Release: December 11, 2012

MyBookOrders.com buy link ($13.99):


  1. I read your review with great interest. I truly appreciate the trouble you took with it. Thank you.

    1. It is nothing compared to all of the painstaking time you took in translating this. A masterful job!

  2. D A, I can tell when you've really enjoyed a book, and I'm glad you enjoyed this one. What an awesome review. I loved your comparison to 'The Hobbit.' Right on the money.

    1. The rich description immediately took me back to the depictions of Middle Earth. That's something I love about fantasy, and it is sorely lacking from much of today's fantasy writing. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this tour!