Saturday, November 22, 2008

Madapple by Christina Meldrum

Brilliant student Maren is 15 when she leaves Denmark in 1987 to study botany in New England. Maren's older sister is divorced with a young child. At Maren's request, she joins her sister in the U.S. It turns out that both sisters are pregnant. Maren seems to believe that she has conceived immaculately. Fast forward to 2003.

Aslaug describes her very unusual, secluded life with her crazy mother, Maren. Aslaug's education has been more than thorough; she reads Danish, English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Coptic, the runic alphabet and a bit of the Celtic languages. Whew! Aslaug is 15 when her mother dies of cancer. She learns something new - she has an aunt Sara and two cousins - and ends up living with them in the pentecostal church where Sara is pastor.

Something goes tragically wrong, but what exactly happened is a mystery. Chapters with Aslaug's first person narration alternate with courtroom transcripts from 2007. The leisurely pace of the first, with Aslaug describing nature, myth and science as she rambles through her version of events, contrasts strongly with the clipped pace of nothing-but-the-facts transcripts and their building sense of dread and suspense.

An unusual and satisfying book.

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