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Breath and Bones

Book Corner                                                                     June 10, 2004

Breath and Bones
by Susann Cokal
Publisher:  Unbridled Books, Denver, CO, 2005, 407 pages 

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl

        The authorial voice of Susann Cokal is magnificent!  This book is the second from an author, whose sense of detail, character, history and a certain kind of whimsicality, makes this a splendid read.

        Cokal's work is set in the late nineteenth century and moves from Denmark to the various venues of the far western part of the United States.  The protagonist is a young Danish woman,  "Famke," who starts life in a Catholic orphanage and as a young adult enters the world of bohemian artists and art because of her beauty and work as an artist's model.  Her search for her friend, fellow artist and lover, Albert Castle, takes her to America.

           Undoubtedly Famke is one of immigrant literature's most independent characters. Agreeing to accompany a Mormon proselytizer in Denmark, who has been attempting to lure her employer to America, Famke journeys to America in search of Albert.   Finding her self isolated in a small Utah Mormon community and unexpectedly the third wife of this missionary, she escapes and, disguised as a young man, continues her search for her partner in the arts.  Her search provides the framework of the book.

          Cokal's work is imbued with rich historical detail reminiscent of the loving care to detail which author Mary Doria Russell does so well.  Each chapter is headed with pertinent quotes from such nineteenth century writers as K. Baedeker, William Morris, Mark Twain and a variety of other western American travelogue authors.  The author's skills at bringing together accurate historical detail from such diverse communities as Copenhagen, 19th century American Mormon farming communities, mining settlements and California metropolitan centers, is remarkable.

         The work is sustained with a mixed tone of amusement, seriousness and subtle understatement. The common human deceptions and failings of men and women, Chinese, European immigrants and Americans, are deftly used to describe a time when social structures were newly emerging and often unpredictable.  The characters' attempts to define their lives and choices is set against a backdrop of the conflicts and parallels between a variety of new and old world faith structures and traditions. 

            One has only one word for this author of such talents - "More!"