Meet Burt Hecker: a mead-drinking, tunic-wearing medieval re-enactor from
upstate New York. He prefers oat gruel to French fries because potatoes were
unavailable in Europe before 1200 AD; and, at war with the modern world, he
enjoys hosting large-scale re-enactments at the Victorian bed and breakfast he
But Burt has some serious problems. After an incident involving the New York State police and an illegally borrowed car, Burt is forced to join a local music therapy workshop to manage his anger. He gallantly accompanies the group to Germany for a festival celebrating the music of the visionary saint Hildegard von Bingen--but he has no plan to return home. His real destination is Prague: he must find his estranged son Tristan, who, he believes, has lost his way in the Bohemian city.
As we move between past and present, the tragic details of Burt's life are gradually revealed: the recent death of his beloved wife; the circumstances that separate him from his children; his complicated relationship with his mother-in-law. And we begin to understand, with heart-wrenching clarity, Burt's eccentric and poignant devotion to a time other than one's own.
Wildly inventive and mesmerizing, Tod Wodicka's debut is a modern-day Arthurian quest that introduces one of the most winning oddball characters to come along in years.
Dawn, or its German equivalent, cannot be far off. But here, at the top of the
hill, night still clogs the forest. Being sixty-three years old and sleepy, I
find it nearly impossible to differentiate now between the stray grapevines, the
trees, and the waist-high shrubs that I know surround me. They could all be wild
'Is everyone awake?'
Three days ago I imprisoned six middle-aged women and one pre-pubescent girl in a tent on this hilltop. The time has come to set them free.
'Pray undo the lock,' an anchorite whispers. Then, sensing my hesitation, 'Did thou forget the key?'
There is no key because there is no lock. My hand waits on the zipper. I stand there in my dagged-edged taffeta tunic, my sandaled feet wet from dew. My bald little head. My nose. Somewhere behind me sleeps the great stone Benedictine Abbey St Hildegard, its vineyards cascading down the hill over Eibingen, over Rudesheim, and into the river Rhine.
Despite light moments and clever demonstrations of culture clash, Wodicka's novel is not a light read. His themes are weighty, his research is thorough and his characters are burdened by their personal and familial histories. Readers may guess that the struggles described in the book's pages are a reflection of its author. Wodicka admits to creating Burt Hecker at least partially out of the need to purge himself of similar tendencies before the birth of his own child. Though Wodicka himself is not a historical re-enactor, he also acknowledges amassing an overwhelming amount of research in preparation for the novel, much if which he never included in the actual text. Only an extremely talented writer could make a success of the mixture of plot, characters and subject matter in All Shall Be Well. Wodicka's story is a rare and noteworthy one, a cautionary tale rooted in a singular, yet familiarly dysfunctional, family.
(Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).
Full Review (1051 words).
Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), whose writings and music are integral to the novel, was trained by an anchoress named Jutta and, in the book, is one herself. An anchoress is a female hermit a woman who, for religious reasons, voluntary shuts herself off from the world. Although information on Hildegard confirms that she chose to emulate Jutta throughout her life, it is not clear that she was an anchoress herself. In fact, considering her achievements include founding two convents in what is now Germany it seems unlikely she was. What she most certainly was though is a woman of deep conviction and multiple talents - a writer, composer, visionary and mystic. Although not ...
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