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Book Club “Hiddensee” imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker

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Tilburg International Club Expat Book Clubreview by Wendy Powell

17 Jan 2022. We spent another relaxed evening chatting about the book Hiddensee by Gregory Maquire (and often many other life topics!), with our favourite drink(s) in hand.

“Enchanting, mystical and filled with wonder – the perfect holiday fairytale for grown-ups”  is how People magazine described this month’s book club choice. From the opening of our discussion, it was clear that this is not quite how our TiC readers would describe it.

The Book

Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, tracing the story of the toymaker Drosselmeier from his challenging childhood through to his later years and his friendship with Felix and his daughter Klara.

At times quite a dark tale, the group had found it difficult to relate to the central character, who did not really show much of his inner life or emotions until near the end of the book. We felt that parts of the storyline were left hanging, needing imagination to fill the gaps. However, all agreed that it was a well-written and many-layered book which revealed much more of itself during our discussions.  Overall, definitely worth a read, but possibly better on the second reading, and it certainly made us want to have a group night watching the Nutcracker!

Reviews of the Book

“Maguire’s characteristic tone is dark and enchanting in his newest fairy tale revision… a powerful story of hope and redemption sure to delight his fans.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Enchanting, mystical and filled with wonder, it’s the perfect holiday fairy tale for grown-ups.” — People

“An inventive, and often dark, retelling of the holiday classic.” — BuzzFeed News

“Continuing his tradition of rewriting fairy tales with an arch eye and offbeat point of view, Maguire turns his attention to Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…A brilliant and nicely off-kilter reading of the children’s classic, retrofitted for grown-ups—and a lot of fun.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From the Back Cover

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.


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