Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda
Bison Books, Lincoln and London, 2011
Borrowed from my library.
I was introduced to Bohemian Girl on Shadow, Knife, Pen… and was intrigued by Svoboda’s connections to Willa Cather and the fact that she stole the title of Cather’s famous story for her novel. That said, Svoboda had me with the first sentence.
Pa lost me on a bet he could not break, nor would, having other daughters to do for, and other debts besides.
Twelve-year-old Harriet is given to a Pawnee Indian to settle a debt. Hobbled at the ankles she carries sand and stone, a slave forced to build an earthen mound. Eventually she escapes and sets off to find her father running into strange characters along the way. What a voice this girl has, stumbling through the dark history of the American West, searching for her Pa.
I have no fear now. The Indian gave me so much fear at the end, it came in buckets until I have no choice but to drink it down and be Bohemian.
I walk right into the blue of this country’s sky, the color of the glass that Bohemians keep one or two bottles of in every house. If I had any sense I would change my skin and clothes to this blue so no Indian could find me, new or old. I could be a walking blue and lost to the eyes of all… From pages 32-33.
It is the 1860’s, a time in American history rich with the horrors of the Civil War, the uprooting and slaughter of Indian tribes. Harriet finds herself wandering east, ends up with an orphaned boy and is rescued from prison by a pair of balloonists. She stumbles into a small town and abandoned by her fellow travelers ends up the owner of a small mercantile, befriends a Jewish peddler and hides run-away slaves. And always tries to hold on to her past as the dark, wild country changes around her.
In Bohemian, there is a word for the air quivering over ripening cherry trees at noon. On my tongue tip. How I long for those trees or even an apple or a plum. I stop sanding my ankle with river bottom mud and hold still, sure the Bohemian words will arrive. From page 116.
It is hard not to keep quoting from Bohemian Girl, it is a strange and lyrical book. I loved it, and I am glad to have been introduced to Svoboda’s writing.