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Was by Geoff Ryman
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Was (1992)

by Geoff Ryman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7751317,989 (3.92)32
  1. 20
    Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (jonathankws)
    jonathankws: More closely related to the original Wizard of Oz book, but still retelling from a different perspective
  2. 21
    A Barnstormer In Oz by Philip José Farmer (jonathankws)
    jonathankws: A much more Sci-Fi revisionist adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, but still quite dark
  3. 00
    Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Two dark tales of Hollywood
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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I don’t think many readers will stick around to the end of this dark, depressing, re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz story. It skips back and forth in time between 1) Dorothy Gael, a sexually abused orphan at Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s homestead in Zeandale, Kansas; 2) Jonathan, a young actor dying of AIDS; 3) Frances Gumm, aka Judy Garland, who has an overbearing stage mother and a father who can’t keep his hands off teenage boys; 4) Bill, a psychologist who treats both an elderly Dorothy and Jonathan.

Dorothy and Jonathan both “check out” and slip mentally into Oz, also known as “Was”, meaning what could have been if they had had a happy life, instead of “Is”, what really happened. I read all the way to the end to find out what happened, and I wish I could say it was worth it.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Geoff Ryman clearly demonstrates his prowess as a writer with his novel Was. This is a tragic exploration of the Dorothy/Oz culture of L. Frank Baum from both an historical and modern perspective.

Ryman chooses the voice of a fictional inspiration for Baum's story, that of Dorothy Gael, who is orphaned due to a diphtheria epidemic, and is sent to live in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. That story explores the benign neglect of Dorothy and the eventual destruction of what had been an innocent, intelligent, creative soul under the weight of religious zeal, ignorance, and the inability to control primal needs.

As a counterpoint to that tragedy, Ryman also introduces the character of Jonathan, with whom we journey from his boyhood struggle with autism through his tragic demise as an AIDS sufferer.

The story is told with an honest, compelling narrative, beautiful in its delivery, rending in its simplicity. Highly recommended. ( )
  fiverivers | Dec 13, 2014 |
I love this book with its interlinked stories all based around the Wizard of Oz. There is the real life Dorothy, growing up in amongst poverty and abuse in 1870s Kansas. There is Jonathan, the gay actor dying of AIDS in the 1980s, obsessed with the Wizard of Oz since childhood. There is Bill working in a 1950s asylum. And there is a little bit about Judy Garland playing Dorothy in the film. It's pretty grim reading in parts, and really quite bleak. It gets a little bit too fanciful towards the end, but as a whole is a great read. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Aug 24, 2013 |
This one starts off slow, and I was ready to put it down after the first half. I was having trouble following the characters and the point. The second half starts to come together and I was surprised at how involved I became with the characters in the end. ( )
  bongo_x | Apr 6, 2013 |
Was is both beautiful and terrible. The pace of the book is slow, and the story changes faces so often it was hard to maintain interest. It took me an exceptionally long time to finish, but I'm glad I did. It is both about the loss of innocence and about the struggle to maintain it - the search for home. The different faces to the story tie themselves together in the end, and that is where the heart of the story truly comes out. It resonates strongly for me now in a dark mirror sort of way, mostly through Dorothy's conversation with Frank near the end: "I learned to be disappointed and not to hope too much. I learned how to be beaten and how to beat others. I leaned that I am worthless and the world is worthless, and that love is a lie and if it's not a lie, then it's wasted." "They learned you wrong."
This story sticks with you, and it's not an entirely pleasant feeling. ( )
1 vote aprilrose09 | Aug 4, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Geoff Rymanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jennings, KathleenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pappas, Cassandra J.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rembert, DanielCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
This is the use of memory: For liberation-not less of love but expanding

Of love beyond desire, and so liberation

From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country begins as attachment to our own field of action

And comes to find that action of little importance

Thought never indifferent. History may be servitude, History may be freedom

--T.S. Elliott, Four Quarters
Dedication
Dedicated to It
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During the spring and summer I sometimes visited the small Norwegian Cemetery on a hgh hill overlooking a long view of the lower Republican Vally.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The haunting, magical, wildly original novel explains the lives of several characters entwined by The Wizard of Oz-both the novel written by L. Frank Baum and the iconic, strangely resonant 1939 film. It is the story of the "real" Dorothy Gaelk an orphan living a hardscrabble life with abusive relatives on a Kansaws frontier settlement, and of the kindly substitute teacher who decides to write the story of the life she ought to have had. Was is also the story of Judy Garland and her unhappy fame. It's about Jonathan, an actor now dying of AIDS, whose intense attachment to OZ dates back to his troubled childhood. And it's the story of Jonathan's therapist, whose work at an asylum also unwittingly intersects the path of the Yellow Brick Road. From the Great Plains to glittering Hollywood, Was traverses the American landscape to reveal the whirling funnel cloud at the core of our personal and cultural fantasies. It is a powerful, moving story of human imagination to transcend the bleakest circumstancrs.
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Small Beer Press

An edition of this book was published by Small Beer Press.

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