Therese Svoboda’s Bohemian Girl is a sparely written odyssey about self-reliance more than anything else, I think. Our heroine, who names herself Harriet, has nothing but bad luck when it comes to her relationships. Things only seem to go well for her when she forges her own path.
We first meet the erstwhile Harriet after her father has lost a bet with an Indian and, consequently, lost custody of Harriet. Harriet serves as a slave for two or three years before managing to get free. After various adventures with a liar, an abandoned infant, and a pair of balloonists from Europe, Harriet makes her way to the town of Red Cloud, Nebraska and finagles her way into running a general store. All this is set against the backdrop of the Civil War, which makes only occasional intrusions into the main story line.
Through it all, Harriet manages to keep, if not her spirits up, her determination going strong. At the end, it was as though Svoboda was writing about why you shouldn’t trust others as much as she was writing about self-reliance and personal strength. I suppose I could sum up Bohemian Girl as one more of those depressing books that has that nubbin of “I Will Survive” kind of hope to it.
There was one thing about this book that disappointed me though. This book is billed (by the blurbs and the dust jacket) as aspiring to be like True Grit and My Antonia. But while it has some elements of those heroines’ fortitude, it lacks a clear sense of place. This story could have taken place just about anywhere. There is so little description of the setting that I had a hard time picturing it (or even the characters) in my mind. I don’t mind spare writing when it works (and I loved it in The Reapers are the Angels). But the tricky thing about this style is that you really have to make sure you choose the right words. The words you use have to be evocative and filled with layers of meaning. It don’t mean just stripping out the adjectives and adverbs.