Monday, May 10, 2004

Gudrun's Tapestry, By Joan Schweighardt

Reviewed by Rocco Lo Bosco

Set in the fifth century crumbling Roman Empire, Gudrun's Tapestry consists of two perfectly interwoven and elegantly conceived stories: Gudrun's heroic quest to single handily bring down Attila The Hun and her life among her tribe prior to that dangerous adventure, a life poignant and beautiful, culminating in the kind of cathartic tragedy the Greeks would have envied. Disguised as Ildico, Gudrun enters the dark and terrifying city of Attila bearing a brilliant war sword that is cursed and brings misfortune to its owner. She offers the sword as a gift to Attila who we meet in terrible glimpses as if his evil is too complex and profound to take in all at once. In brilliant strokes Schweighardt paints a deeply psychotic character so chillingly rendered that we might think the author met him in person. Attila "rewards" Gudrun by sparing her life, imprisoning her in a guarded hut where she spends much her days recounting the past that has shaped her quest.

During this past she lived as a young women among her people, cleaving close to her family and caring for her mentally challenged younger brother. She was helplessly in love with Sigurd, a young warrior destined for greatness, and from the very first moment we see them together, it becomes apparent that theirs will be a love story for the ages. The tender and painful encounters they share, the complexity of their situation, and their loyalty to each other and their tribe draw the reader into an ancient but utterly believable world and infuses Gudrun and Sigurd with so much life, that their story will be remembered long after the book is put aside. It is during this time that a series of intriguing twists of events put the sword in Gudrun¹s possession, and she hatches her plan to destroy Attila.

In the city of this most notorious War Lord, Gudrun is befriended by Attila's second-in-command, Edeco, a member of her people and a tormented soldier who is torn between his fearful loyalty to Attila and his growing love for Gudrun. Though a prisoner under Attila's constant suspicion, she is made to serve in his hall and eventually picked to be one of his many wives. With events in Attila's city closing around her, with the past weighing so heavily in her mind and the fate of her people in her hands, with Edeco's afflicted affection for her in razor sharp tension with Attila's desire to make her his wife, Gudrun must negotiate her way through monstrous adversity to realize her task.

Within the two main stories that comprise the book, there are stories within stories that further color this time and its characters. This gives Gudrun's Tapestry an epic feel. Yet the book never loses its intimacy, its timeless relevance, and amazingly with all this embarrassment of riches, it accomplishes something further still: it gives the reader a deep sense of an older consciousness that was ordered by values vastly different then the ones we now honor. Furthermore, the narrative makes this ancient consciousness both believable and respectable. This is a brilliant feat, and it culminates in the tapestry Gudrun weaves, composed of pictures that tell her story and the story of her people, a tapestry by which she becomes one with her tribe and its history.

Powered by a plot riddled with intrigue and betrayal, peopled by characters of astonishing depth and color, and rendered in a melodic yet powerful voice, Gudrun's Tapestry is a work as literary as they come while still being a page turner capable of competing with the best of the pot boilers sitting in the racks of airport stores. If you like to read in the evening, then start this book on a Friday night, otherwise you¹ll go to work bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. When you finish it, all too quickly, you¹ll have that feeling of being deeply satisfied, yet still wishing there were more pages.