Wednesday, 26 October 2016

'The Beginning'

The second story in The Girl With the Peacock Harp is set in roughly the same time as the first, and  in a not dissimilar place. We move from Tsarist Russia to the realm of the Hapsburgs in the late 19th century (judging from internal evidence). Michael Eisele conjures up a world in which the Romany people still travel in horse-drawn wagons and anarchists throw bombs into carriages.

One fortunate clan is allowed by a human Graf to camp on his estate every year, and it is there that the nobleman's heir, Thomas, forms a childhood friendship with Kisaiya the 'gypsy' girl. An unfortunate prank leads to a mock betrothal between the two, and Kisaiya becomes obsessed with the idea that she is destined to be with Thomas. He is sent away to school, but when he returns he is re-united with his paramour and swears to marry her for real.

Needless to say this causes ructions among the nobility but, thanks to some machinations by a cunning flunky, Kisaiya is turned into a lady and the wedding takes place.  We know, however, that the marriage will not be a happy one, as most of the story takes place in an extended flashback. Kisaiya gives birth to a son and, despite being forbidden from speaking her own tongue to him, passes on one vital part of her culture - a love of music.

Aided by a Romany violin, young Maximilian becomes a gifted musician, but not in the style of the 'gaje' or supposedly civilised folk. Instead he feels compelled to play brilliant improvisations, outraging his father's sensibilities. The final crisis, in which Kisaiya struggles to liberate her son from the rigid orthodoxy she unwisely adopted, is 'The Beginning' of Maximilian's freedom to play as he wishes.

Like 'An Old Tale', this story is only marginally supernatural, but is rather a strange tale. It has the feel of a story that might well have been told around the campfire of travelling folk, perhaps as a cautionary tale.  Or perhaps not.

Another review tomorrow, I hope!

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