“Here it is: one of you will be brave, one of you will be a coward. One of you will believe. One of you will doubt.”
This is a bizarre novel with a magical, dreamlike quality. As stated in the summary Pavla is born to peasants who took part in gypsy tonics, archaic prescriptions. Per the gypsy’s instructions ‘bathing in the piss of a newborn piglet.” When she is born ‘ugly’ to the small minded peasant parents and ignorant village Pavla is simply ‘the thing’, ‘no one mentions that the baby has hair the color of her dead grandmother, Ljuba”…Pavla is marked as an outcast, like all things different. Eventually her mother will love her, her heart ‘will expand to make room for the brew of awe and heartache that she has come to identify as happiness.” The writing has a folktale vibe which feeds the atmosphere of the village. Little Nothing is what Pavla is called but she isn’t always an outsider. There is more to her that makes her ‘strange’ than just being a ‘dwarf’. Per the Doctor’s instructions, planting her in the ground like a bad seed won’t make her grow into a tall sunflower anymore than any of the strange remedies and potions have ‘cured’ her of her strangeness. In fact she becomes more infected with ‘otherness’. Becoming instead “two things men have a need to routinely destroy: animals and women” she is soon a ‘freak’ of sorts.
Danilo is wrapped up in Pavla protecting and maybe hurting her (though his intentions were good). Where others see ‘ugliness’ he is drawn into it, fascinated even- championing her. Is she real? Is Pavla a dwarf, a woman, a wolf or all those things and more? This novel is about her transformations, about belief and disbelief. It is by far the strangest novel I have read all year and it may not be everyone’s taste. Like any ‘folktale’ there is heavy meaning in the odd telling. It is funny, crude, heartbreaking- just as odd a mixture as a gypsy’s potion. But there is something that kept my on this journey. Through war, imprisonment she is ‘there and not there’ and Danilo is simply the cowardly man who may or may not have her love. Dizzying fun for those who enjoy strange stories. I realize my review is odd, but I am still dazed from the tale.