In the rural villages of Norway, there is an ancient belief that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born. Nyamh Rose, the last daughter of eight siblings born to a poor mapmaker and his superstitious wife, was a North-born baby. It is said that North-born babies are wild, unpredictable, intelligent, and destined to break their mothers’ hearts because they all leave hearth and home to travel to the far ends of the earth. To keep her close, Rose’s mother lied and told her she had been born of the obedient and pliable East. But destiny cannot be denied. One day, a great white bear comes to the mapmaker’s door to claim Rose’s birthright.
What an absolutely beautiful story! I see it’s generally classified as a YA read, and I guess that’s because Rose, the main character, is YA. But really, I’m not sure most teens would have the stamina for this one. It’s a long book, no doubt about it. But a very rewarding, vividly written tale that is educational as much as it is spell-binding.
Rose’s mother is very superstitious. With her father and grandfather having been mapmakers, she knows all about the points of the compass. And one of the things she’s adamant about is that the direction a baby is born in determines their character/personality/destiny. And she vows never to have a child born North, because northern babies are wanderers. Then, one stormy day, Rose is born. Rose is born North, but her mother refuses to admit it, so says that she was born East – since she was to replace an East-born child who died.
It is clear from early on, though, that Rose is indeed a North child, as she has a wanderlust that nothing can curb, but her mother does her utmost to train Rose to be a good East. Quiet, at home, doing crafts. Actually, Rose does excel at one craft – loom weaving – and initially makes herself a cloak with her compass rose on it – the compass rose her map-making father designed for her at birth. One of Rose’s deepest desires is to ride on the back of a snow bear.
And then one terrible day Rose discovers the lie her parents have perpetuated – the lie of her birth – and the snow bear comes to claim her. Her anger at her parents drives her to leave with the snow bear, and they travel away together to a castle the bear lives in.
This story comes complete with trolls, talking snow bears, a storm at sea and a place that is East of the sun and West of the moon. Based on “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, Pattou takes the original folklore and embellishes it beautifully. With what appears to be excellent research and investigation into the locales and cultures involved, and with a vivid writing style that conveys all the detail without weighing the story down, this story is truly wonderful. I kept getting flashbacks to my childhood days reading The Snow Queen. Now I know that’s a completely different story, but that sense of adventure, of travelling from place to place in pursuit of a loved one… and ending up in the far north… that’s what I was picking up on. I know I’ve actually read “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” in its original form, but have very little recollection of it.
I’d say this is a must read if you’re into folk tales, fairy tales, Norwegian folklore and talking snow bears! Fabulous stuff!