Norman Ravvin skillfully weaves his story with images of the past and present in Vancouver and a small village in Poland. The key figures are drawn together throughout the story using the unlikeliest of props; a vacant building which was once a pawn shop in Vancouver, an abandoned house in the Polish village square of Radzanow, a pop bottle, a box containing relics – one of which is a photo of children, a black and white image of the past.
The main characters, Nadia the dulcimer girl and the person referred to in the title and Simon, meet by chance in Vancouver and unknown to them, their pasts are linked. Neither of their fathers has spoken of their history. Mysteries are presented to us and as we move through the story, clues are revealed.
Nadia is studying music at UBC and is drawn to the east side of Cordova Street, the intersection of East and West Vancouver, as Ravvin puts it – a washed-out street of failure and dissolution. Here she connects with Simon, who leases the old pawn shop, using it a gathering spot for musicians and entertainers. Nadia plays her dulcimer to a captivated audience.
Simon is offered a ticket, maps, notes and money to visit Radzanow after an explanation from one of his father’s cousins, who reveals to him the past his father has never spoken of. Reluctantly he goes, to discover a family home that is kept by an elderly lady for years, hoping for the return of someone she loved. The home is like a museum of Prewar years and through the visit, we learn of the Jewish plight of the Second World War and the post-communism that reached even the smallest of Polish villages.
A film crew using the village as a backdrop for fake German soldiers and Jews, unite the mysterious lady protecting the house with Simon and brings Nadia to Poland where they discover secrets of their own.
It is an intriguing tale. Ravvin’s prose is lush and filled with wonderful detail:
He walks along the roadway. What he looks at could be a set for Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. An angular leafless tree. A single cow with a bell on its neck. The melancholy of the cow; the blighted suggestiveness of the tree; the loveliness, like a trap waiting to be sprung, of the grasslands and the hills; a few little farm buildings along fenced property lines.
Told in the first person, which I enjoy, I like this story. The Girl Who Stole Everything is literary fiction. I am personally not a fan of literary fiction but for those who are, there is a deeper meaning to Ravvin’s story, one that you will have to discover for yourself.
“Absurdly gorgeous . . . the sky’s no limit in Ravvin’s luscious narrative lexicon.”
— Judith Fitzgerald, Toronto Star
About the Author: Norman Ravvin’s books have won prizes in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. His novels include The Joyful Child, Café des Westens, and Lola by Night, which appeared in Serbian translation. He lives in Montreal.
About the reviewer: Allan Hudson is a New Brunswick author and has written several novels and collections of short stories, many of which have been reviewed here at the Miramichi Reader. Allan is also an excellent interviewer and has talked to many authors, national as well as international ones. You can visit his site, The South Branch Scribbler here: http://allanhudson.blogspot.com/
The Girl Who Stole Everything by Norman Ravvin
Linda Leith Publishing
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