Greens are good for you

I have never been a fan of bitter greens, but then again, I have pretty sensitive taste buds. Even so, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the book Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. I just finished this one up a few days ago, and I have to say, while the story didn’t hit home at the end, there are two reasons for why I still strongly enjoyed this book: the inception story-telling and the character similarities between Selena Leonelli, Margherita, and Charlotte-Rose.

This story starts with Charlotte-Rose arriving at a covenant, depressed and wishing she was back at the Versailles palace with the king, unsure of how she had gotten herself kicked out of court to the nunnery. She struggles giving up her pleasures from the palace, like her dresses and quills, and progressively loses the strength of her personality to the constant onslaught of obedience and subservience. It isn’t until she finds Soeur Seraphina, untils she’s rejuvinated with the story of Margherita.

Margherita, a young seven-year old girl with hair like fire, is at first excited when a strange lady comes up and hands her a beautiful golden necklace, but it isn’t until she goes home to her mother that the true story is revealed.

Now two stories deep and going into a third, Margherita’s mother, Pascalina, tells of how she was orphaned and helped by a beautiful witch, one who had a beautiful garden, the first one Pascalina had seen since arriving into the Italian city. SPOILER. This is the same witch, who gives Pascalina a spell to make a beautiful, homely man fall in love with her; who steals her daughter Margherita from her family; who then forces Margherita into a tower, in order to keep herself young; and who is saved by Margherita due to the girl’s own serenity and forgiveness.

Overall, this book goes three layers deep. And although it certainly adds additional parallel stories,  it never once feels contrived. SPOILER. I think it helps that the main character telling the story, Soeur Seraphina, turns out to be the one and the same Selena Leonelli, the witch who had cursed Margherita and been saved by her as well. I also think it helps that she ends up being such a brilliant mirror for Charlotte-Rose as well.SPOILERS.

 Charlotte-Rose- the woman  Margherita – the girl  Selena – the witch
  •  Proud Huguenot, worshiped an illegal religion
  • Independent woman
  • Mother ‘stolen’ and sent to a nunnery, where she died
  • Locked away against her will by her guardian Marquis de Maulevrier at the age of twelve
  • Escaped being beaten through imagination
  • Embarrassed/shamed by first lover
  • Seduced second lover with black magic
  • Lost third lover to his father’s honor
  • The garden at the convent like her mother’s garden
  • Successfully born due to parsley, so parsley birthmark
  • Stolen away from her mother at 7-years old by the witch, then donated to a nunnery
  • Loves to sing
  • Locked away in a tower at the age of twelve
  • Cuts her wrists for the witch, donating blood for longevity
  • Attracted her rescuer through singing
  • Rescued by Lucio de Medici, nephew of the Grand Duke
  • Baptised Maria the Whore’s Brat
  • Renamed Selena Leonelli by the witch Sibillia, whom she served
  • Learned magic and played courtesan to cast vengence and to be independent from men
  • Worshipped the illegal religion of witchery
  • Rejected by Tiziano
  • Used red-headed girls to keep her longevity, but wanted the girls to love her
  • Became a nun at the convent to be good

Notice how the characters have so many things in common. Both Charlotte and Selena are independent women, both unwilling to be so reliant on men. Both have experienced men’s rejection a number of times, but while Selena used magic to earn her freedom and Margherita used her singing, Charlotte used her power of words.

And while I’m thinking about it, this book also has a lot of symbolism regarding time. When I define all the characters, I see the grandmother, the woman, and the girl. Each at a different stage in their life. While Margherita’s innocence saved her, something commonly associated with young children and girls, it was Charlotte’s and Selena’s corruption that doomed them. It wasn’t until Selena had grown older that her wisdom could be shared, in order to save others from their own corruption, the same corruption that had unwittingly stolen Charlotte-Rose to the nunnery in the first place.

Overall, by the end of this book, you won’t be overwhelmed by a strong ending, and you won’t be compelled to read it in one-sitting, but I’d like to argue it is just as good as all of Forsyth’s other books. It’s definitely worth the read.

PS. Another reason I like this book, and Forsyth’s books in general is that it’s a historical fiction piece that tells the story of how the real Mademoiselle Charlotte-Rose de la Force created the story of Rapunzel, how she might’ve heard/retold it from the first version Petrosinella, ‘Little Parsley.’

Forsyth, Kate. Bitter Greens. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012. Print.

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