Under the Poppy

by

Author: Koja, Kathe

Title: Under the Poppy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2010

Number of Pages: 360

Geographical Setting: unspecified city, most likely Brussels in Europe

Time Period: 1870’s

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Under the Poppy is a book about a brothel with the same name in a historical city, possibly nineteenth century Brussels. Its setting of theatrical atmosphere and cabaret scenery coordinates perfectly with the flamboyant and vivid main characters. In the first part of the story three friends meet again after not seeing each other for years. Rupert, who owns the brothel, Decca, his co-owner and the madam of the place and who is in love with Rupert, and Istvan, Decca’s brother, with whom Rupert is in love. The complicated love triangle begins while Istvan, also a puppeteer master, comes back to town. It’s a story about the war too, from which Rupert and Istvan want to escape by getting involved in the circles of the upper class society of the decadent 1870s Brussels.

Koja’s use of language is undeniably genius, rich, refreshing, and engrossing; the entire story is eccentric and requires lots of patience for the extravagant style. It has plenty of distinct and provoking sex scenes, but they are tastefully written.

Subject Headings: Friendship; Sexuality; Gay Man; Nineteenth Century; Houses of Prostitution; Triangles (Interpersonal Relations); Puppetry; War and Love; History and Drama.

Appeal: fast-paced; intense and sophisticated prose; rich and unexpected dialogues and narrative; theatrical; flamboyant; refreshing language; decadent and dark world; text dense of double-maenings; heartbreaking drama; descriptive, sexy.

Three Terms for Book: theatrical scenery, engrossing prose, intoxicating characters.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1. Carter, Angela, Nights at the Circus – Provocative touring circus among European Cities; gothic and magical scenery plus unconventional 19th century characters.

2. Diamant, Anita, The Last Days of Dogtown – Stories of an old Massachusets town in the 1800s, populated mostly by extraverted and decadent community members. It’s a piece of  quirky, uneasy, still very sensual Historical Fiction.

3. Valentine, Genevieve, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti – Apocalyptic and Fantasy Fiction with an edgy and melancholy tone.  There are adventures of th post war circus Tresaulti’s Troupe. Gorgeous prose.

 Relevant Nonfiction Works and Authors:

1. Blumenthal, Eileen, Puppetry: A World History – Explores the ways puppetry played in the past cultural history of Western Europe and North America. Some photos can be shocking, but true to the topic.

2. Schwarzenbach, Annemarie, All the Roads Are Open: The Afgan Journey – This is the only one translated into English. A lyrical essay and memoir of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who was a bohemian, free spirited, bisexual, cult figure in early years of the 20th century.

3. State, F. Paul, Historical Dictionary of Brussels – An interesting insight into hundreds of years of Belgium, Brussels, including the often colorful times of 19th century culture.

 

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