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by Mordical Gerstein,Tavah Feldshuh

Book by Gerstein, Mordical
Download Old Country epub
ISBN: 0307245446
ISBN13: 978-0307245441
Category: Children
Subcategory: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Author: Mordical Gerstein,Tavah Feldshuh
Language: English
Publisher: Listening Library (May 24, 2005)
ePUB size: 1415 kb
FB2 size: 1755 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 909
Other Formats: lrf txt azw mobi

I read The Old Country with my middle school students after reading it once myself and being quite taken with the twists and turns of the story. I recently recommended it for my cousin's summer reading and she loved it! This is a fast read that puts a light-hearted spin on a heavy topic. This novel is great for teaching foreshadowing, symbolism, imagery, and many other literary devices. The Old Country is magical!
The story begins in a familiar folk-tale format but transmutes into a parable that tries to walk the edge between a children's fairy tale and an adult allegory, and it doesn't really succeed at being either. The political and racial proselytizing in particular got a bit heavy, especially for a fairy tale, and would have been better handled more tangentially. Though supposedly aimed at young children, it is more suited to the late elementary crowd--and it is a light, quick read for anyone who likes foxes. The overtly fantastic elements introduced in the latter half bothered me a little, but once I accepted the turn the writing had taken, I was able to get used to it.

The ending, however, made up for any faults encountered on the journey. It was a satisfying conclusion, and I have to say that I did not see it coming.
I've always been entranced by fairy tales, and by retellings of old fairy tales. "The Old Country" didn't seem to be a retelling of a specific tale, but rather the author creating a story with the feel and language of an old folk tale from the titular "old country"... but also mixing it with real-world events, blending the fantastic with the grit of the real world. This can be done well (the best examples I can think of are Eowyn Ivey's "The Snow Child" and "To the Bright Edge of the World," and Catherynne Valente's "Deathless"), but while "The Old Country" had some brilliant parts, I ultimately felt disappointed in it, and feel that the real world and world of the magical didn't mesh very well.

"The Old Country" tells the story of Gisella, a peasant girl who looks too long into the eyes of a fox and ends up changing bodies with it. Gisella is desperate to track down the fox-turned-girl who hijacked her life and regain her true shape... but a terrible war sweeping through their country complicates matters. Soon war is tearing apart the worlds of humans, animals, and the Folk who have long made their home in the magical world... a world being destroyed by the bombs and guns of the human war. With a little help from a panicky chicken, a surly bear, a sly cat, and one of the few remaining members of the faerie folk, Gisella must make her way to the palace of the Emperor who started the war, save her family, and ultimately find her true destiny...

The beginning of this book starts off fairly strong, giving us a story within a story -- Gisella herself relating the tale to a young grand-nephew -- and striking a tone quite similar to the original folk and fairy tales. It paints vivid pictures and gives us a world of talking animals, mysterious faerie folk, and strange happenings that wouldn't feel out of place in a Brothers Grimm tale or one of the true "old country" tales. And I enjoyed the rapport of the various characters, both human and animal... though the villains are cartoony caricatures, over-the-top and more laughable than threatening. I know the original fairy tales didn't exactly have complex villains, but it's not a good sign when I find myself laughing at a villain rather than considering them a menace to the main characters.

Also, Mordicai Gerstein tries to blend elements modern warfare into the story, with tanks and bombs threatening our heroes every bit as much as wicked kings and wayward magic. Mixing historical elements into fantasy can sometimes work, but here I never felt that the "real" world and the world of the fantastic gelled together in any believable way, and it was always jarring when the fairy-tale feel of the book gave way to the shock of real-world warfare. There's also a subplot about the persecution of the "Crags," which feels like a stand-in for the persecution of Jews and gypsies during WWII, but this felt like a distraction from the story itself.

While a promising concept and a fairly enjoyable story, "The Old Country" is an uneven read, at times capturing the feel of an old folk tale and at other times just coming across as a muddled mess. I wouldn't consider it a BAD book, and even enjoyed it, but ultimately I don't feel compelled to recommend it to most people. It's a decent modern folk tale, but in the end largely forgettable.
"In these woods, things may not be what they seem. Things change, now it's this, then it's that. Look closely, be careful, and never look too long into the eyes of a fox."

Really enjoyed this beautiful little fairytale of shape-shifters and talking animals. The setting of this story does a great job of weaving magic both in the real world and in the "invisible world" described in the story. It also eloquently describes the effects of the modern world and it's wars on the natural world and magic.
Mordicai Gerstein, winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal for THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS, has tapped into his childhood as well as his fruitful imagination to bring to life a fable told to him by Gisella, his great-grandmother.

Gisella lived in the old country on a small farm with her brother Tavido, Mother, Grandfather, Great-Aunt Tanteh, and many animals. Gisella's family had a dozen chickens, each named for a different month. Flame, a wily fox, stole April and May. Armed with a crossbow Gisella entered the forest to kill the fox. She encountered an owl-person who insisted there must be a trial to determine whether or not Flame was really guilty. It was a most unusual trial, with a jury composed only of birds and a white spider as judge. Flame was found innocent. Gisella stared too long into Flame's eyes, and as Great Aunt Tanteh had warned, Gisella and Flame switched bodies.

Thus begins a most unusual and magical tale. All the animals in this book can speak and understand humans. There is a war going on between the black army and the purple army. So much destruction is occurring that the magical, invisible world is rapidly disappearing. Even the ordinary, everyday world is in shambles. Gisella's family is being held captive in the Crystal Palace and are threatened with death. The emperor is trying to find out Great-Aunt Tanteh's secret: how she gets December to lay golden eggs. Gisella the fox and her animal friends create a bold and risky plan to try to save the family. Magic intertwines with reality often in this book, which has a surprise ending.

Mordicai Gerstein writes from the animals' point of view --- as he imagines it. This is in stark contrast to how humans think, he often suggests. A young child will be enchanted by the fairy tale quality of the book, while older children will enjoy the many twists and turns of the story. Adults will appreciate the timeless truths; for example, that war is always a battle for power and that, when confronted with a major decision, it is often difficult to know which path to choose. THE OLD COUNTRY is an excellent read-aloud book for all ages.

--- Reviewed by Carole Turner