Sunday, January 6, 2008

the mysterious edge of the heroic world by e.l. konigsburg

Before I begin, I must allow myself a short rant about book titles devoid of capitalisation. It makes the already hard job of teaching 9-11 year olds "the rules". You can hear the satifaction in their voice as they wave their little hands at you and proclaim, "But it's not capitalised on the cover."
Anyway, back to the book. I went through this novel like a hot knife through butter, but I'm having a hard time putting my finger on what exactly I found so compelling. The story follows young Amedeo as he helps clean out and catalogue the eclectic contents of his elderly neighbor's mansion. While doing so, he finds an original drawing by Modigliani given to Mrs Zender by her husband as a wedding present. The drawing, in an all too convenient twist of fate, turns out to have a fascinating and tragic history connected to Nazi Germany and Amedeo's godfather. We learn that Modigliani, as part of the Modern art world, was labled as a Degenerate artist by the Nazis and his work was outlawed. Many Degenerate pieces were confiscated and found their way in to underground collections. The piece that Amedeo finds was used for both good and evil. For me, however, the true source of fascination in the novel is Mrs Zender herself. I adored her and despised her at the same time. A one time very minor European opera star, she now floats around her treasure stuffed mansion drinking chilled champagne, dropping the names of famous artists and writers-friends whose work she neither read nor admired, "I haven't read a book in years . Every now and then I read a review in a magazine at the beauty parlor, and sometimes I think I would enjoy reading and entire book, but I allow the thought to pass."(149) Her connection to the Modigliani is a somewhat sordid tale. Konigsburg has created one of the most intruiging characters I've encountered in young adult literature lately. Mrs Zender is a bully, a diva, and a lonely soul all at the same time. Tennessee Williams could have created her.

1 comment:

Darla D said...

I just finished reading this one and really enjoyed it - and your review! I completely agree with you about the character of Mrs. Zender - she is wonderful. And I particularly liked the fact that she was so amazingly complex - that is not typical of characters in most kids' and even YA novels. (But definitely typical of Konigsburg's.)

And too funny about the capitalization - nothing like being undermined in class! :-D