Bohemian Girl

By Terese Svoboda

(University of Nebraska Press, $14.95, 208 pages) 

Who is this author?

Terese Svoboda wears many literary hats: She has published five poetry collections, six novels, a memoir, a book of translation and more than 100 short stories. Yet her name was unknown to me, and, I am betting to you as well.

In addition to her work as a writer, Svoboda has produced videos for the Columbia Translation and the PBS Voices and Visions series, as well as poetry videos, and wrote the libretto for a chamber opera for Death and five voices titled WET.

In 2007, Svoboda won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for her memoir, “Black Glasses Like Clark Kent,” which was about her uncle. He had been a military policeman in Japan after World War II and kept a devastating secret – and after the Abu Ghraib horrors in Iraq, he killed himself.

She also has won an O. Henry Award, has taught at many universities and has been published in The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly,, Bomb, Lit, Columbia, Yale Review and The Paris Review.

What is this book about?

“Bohemian Girl,” not to be confused with Willa Cather’s novel, “The Bohemian Girl,” is a novel set in Nebraska just as the Civil War is beginning. Its heroine is 12-year-old Harriet, given by her ne’er-do-well father to a mound-building Indian to pay off a debt. The story, which has been called a blend of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “True Grit,” follows young Harriet as she escapes from bondage to the mound-builder and works her way east to find her father. Her picaresque travels include encounters with a Jewish peddler, a saloon singer and a balloonist, and she is locked in a stockade and then freed, becomes a surrogate mother and helps runaway slaves. The book captures a turbulent era of American history from the point of view of a brave and determined girl.

Why you’ll like it:

Critics praise Svoboda’s deft use of language in all her various writings, and this book is no exception. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it: “Harriet’s observations of the world and her small place in it are insightful and often touching. And Svoboda  often displays a poet’s touch with language and imagery.”

Furthermore, well-told stories of young people who must make their way in a hostile world are always engrossing, and when the central character is an adventurous girl, they can be even more exciting.

What others are saying:

“Creating a western world as raucous and unpredictable as any imagined by Larry McMurtry, and teeming with characters as tragically heroic as those created by Willa Cather, Svoboda offers a vividly distinctive tale of the American frontier,” says a Booklist starred review.

Foreword says: “Hollywood has handed us an American West of cowboys, cattle, train whistles, and Indian wars, but Terese Svoboda offers a different glimpse of history, from the perspective of a young girl abandoned by her own father to make her way in a world that has mostly cruelty to offer. . . .An eloquent exploration of the Wild West from the perspective of one of its victims who refuses to be victimized.”

“We never doubt Harriet will seize as much satisfaction as this hard life can spare. . . . A marvelous heroine with an iron will and a unique voice,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

It’s expected to be on the shelf at the Hartford Public Library as of Jan. 18.

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