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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-09-09 08:53 am

Newbery Honor: Pran of Albania (Elizabeth Cleveland Miller)

This is an out-of-print interlibrary loan, 257 pages long. Here goes.

* This is a pretty book; the frontispiece shows a girl in traditional Albanian dress, spinning wool(?) from a distaff while walking in a mountain meadow and carrying a backpack or baby-board on her back. The style is woodcut-y, I don't know whether done with real woodcuts or pen and ink.

* The title page shows a smaller black-and-white view of (presumably the same) girl knitting something in a complex pattern. We seem to be getting a lot more female protagonists now that we're into the decade of the Triumph of Female Authors. ;S

* The illustrators are Maud and Miska Petersham (a husband-and-wife team - Miska was male), seriously wonderful artists. They do their best work in full-color picture books; I wish this was one.

* Anyway, this book is dedicated to Palok Shkiezi and Rexh Mete. I always thought Basque was the most un-English-like language to use the Roman alphabet, but apparently Albanian beats it. ;-) I know zilch about Albania, so this should be interesting.

* Chapter 1: "Guests by the Fire".

* Pran, a fourteen-year-old Albanian girl, is sitting in a dark corner of her house, knitting and watching the six grown-ups sitting around the fireplace in the center of the room.

* There are four men and two women seated there. One is Pran's father Ndrek, blue-eyed and gray-haired, dressed in traditional Albanian men's costume, and smoking a cigarette in a silver holder.

* Another is Pran's mother Lukja, who sits "across from him and farther from the warmth, as courtesy demanded". I don't know that I think much of this culture, if it's one where that attitude was realistically and unquestioningly held. What difference does it make whether the father and mother of a family sit the same distance from a fire? Goodness. O_O

* We are informed that Lukja wears all black wool, with a broad leather belt studded with glittering nail-heads; this is the costume of a married woman in traditional Albania. Pran, because she is unmarried, wears all white wool.

* Lukja is sad, but we don't know why; the four guests have brought news, but Pran doesn't know what news, as she was in the downstairs room of the house, where the livestock are kept, when they arrived.

* The nearest town, it seems, is called Thethi, and it lies "near the dangerous edge of enemy country". Looking at a map of Albania and surrounding regions, I see that "enemy country" in this case is most likely Montenegro, which borders on Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia.

* There are three male visitors and one female. All the men, including, Pran's father, are tall and moustached. There is a young blond male visitor with "frank eyes, friendly"; a black-haired and dark-eyed man who stares at the fire and thinks of important, unpleasant things; and a white-haired man with "faded gray eyes" who reminds Pran of a chief. She intuits that this man is trustworthy and has come "on some friendly business here to us". WRITER! :P If this heralds a lot of telling-not-showing, I'm not going to finish this book.

* All three male visitors brought rifles with them, "as all men did in the mountain country"; these now hang with Ndrek's rifle by the door. Pran wonders where the men have come from. They are dressed much like her father, in tight woolen trousers and jackets with bright-colored cummerbunds and leathern cartridge belts, but they have different decorations on their clothes, signifying a different clan or tribe, one of which Pran has never heard.

* The female visitor is about Lukja's age, and they sit close together, whispering back and forth; Pran overhears enough to know that they're chatting about a village they both know. She deduces that they must have grown up together.

* The other woman's name is Gjyl. Her son is grown up, possibly the blond young man; Lukja has two twin sons, eight years old, named Gjon and Nikola, in addition to fourteen-year-old Pran. She remarks quite matter-of-factly that it was "good luck indeed" to have two boys "after our having had only a girl for years" -- so I deduce that Albania of this era (I don't yet know whether it's contemporary or historical Albania) was definitely gender-stratified, with women considered less important and subservient to men.

* Lukja introduces Pran to Gjyl, and explains that Gjyl was her next-door neighbor as a child. They married men of different mountain tribes and moved far apart. Now Gjyl has come to visit, but not with joy; Gjyl's husband is dead, killed in a mountain blood-feud (the term used is "He was in blood"), and she is sad because it is now the duty of her grown son to kill in return his father's murderer and probably to be killed soon in his turn. :P

* Lukja sends Pran to fetch water and wash Gjyl's feet... and yeah, definitely a gender-stratified society; Lukja speaks of wishing Gjyl to find comfort in "my man's house" rather than "my house".

* Pran heats water over a fire in the lower room of the house. While the water heats, she thinks over the matter of the feud, and deduces that the white-haired man is Gjyl's dead husband's father and the other two men are probably his brothers. The author explains the blood-feud system, "backbone of mountain law and mountain justice", and tells us that Pran sees it as perfectly proper and just. I don't know if the Lesson of the book is going to be that it is horrible and unjust, or if it is going to be "autres temps, autres moeurs" -- other times, other morals. Honestly, I can't think which I'd prefer it to be, either; on the one hand, I'm so tired of Newberys moralizing, but on the other hand, the author sounds rather disturbingly calm about the perfect normalness of blood-feuding. Sigh.

* Pran pets her favorite of the goats, Hâna ("the moon" - there's a lot more Albanian in this book that I'm not transcribing because I haven't the faintest notion how to pronounce it), and feeds Hâna a branch of leaves, then collects the water for the foot-washing and carries it back upstairs together with the fancy red-bordered guest-towel.

* While Pran washes Gjyl's feet, she overhears the dark-eyed man talking to Ndrek about paying him for something, in goats and sheep and sacks of meal. Pran wonders what he's to be paid for, but we're not told right now.

* The menfolk seem to make some bargain, Pran doesn't know what, and they talk of autumn -- the marriage season. Pran wonders whether she is being given in betrothal for an arranged marriage, as is the custom; it's kind of unusual in the place and time that Pran is not already betrothed, since most girl-children are promised at birth.

* Then Pran is sent off to catch and kill a chicken and start it cooking for supper. End chapter 1.

* Chapter 2 is called "Man of the Black Face". I wonder whether this refers to an African or to a white Albanian man with a gloomy or angry expression?

* The menfolk eat supper first - cornbread, chicken, and goat cheese - leaving, "as custom was", plenty of food for the three women, who eat afterward. *frowns* I do not approve of all this gender segregation being treated as normative. Why are you writing this particular book, Elizabeth Cleveland Miller, and why is it a Newbery?

* After supper the two young men sing a yodeling song in traditional Albanian "repeat after me" style. I know the style from another "customs of Albania" story I recall reading once upon a time, though it made more sense when it was actually explained that the singers cover their ears with their hands in order to keep their eardrums from bursting when they yodel in the thin mountain air, instead of the random mention here that the singer "took hold of his ear lobes with his two hands", which just comes across as kind of... LOLWUT.

* The song is about an important statesman telling the young men of Albania to go and ride to the border to fight the raiding Slavs -- but it's interrupted in the middle of a line by someone banging on the downstairs door with a gun butt.

* Ndrek asks without words, by a look, whether the visitors are expecting friends of theirs to drop in. They are not. Ndrek goes down to open the door, which is his duty as the man of the house.

* Pran whispers to her mother that she is afraid, and Lukja chides her gently, saying "Fear has no place here, daughter."

* Ndrek brings the new visitor upstairs. This man's name is Mark Gjeloshit, from Hoti. He is sandy-haired, shorter than the other men, and "heavy-featured", and he speaks slowly with an odd accent. Pran feels that he is not "Maltsor" -- not a proper Albanian, as far as I can figure out the meaning of that term. But she dismisses the feeling, reasoning that the land of the Hoti tribe was conquered by invaders several years ago and it is far away; perhaps the people talk differently there.

(I don't believe it. I think this man is an imposter and To Be Distrusted. He's short! ;P And he doesn't get any flattering descriptors about "important thoughts" or "fine, aquiline features" or whatever, he's just "heavy-featured". And he has SANDY HAIR. *shrugs* I don't know, I might be overreacting.)

* Pran's tribe is called Shala, by the bye.

* Mark is well-dressed and does not look poor or oppressed, as Pran has heard that the Hoti are. He wears fine new-made clothing, with plenty of silver and jewels about his person. This signifies that he is a collaborator with the invaders, who has received rewards from them, we are told. "How well Pran knew all this!" o_O

* Pran takes an immediate dislike to Mark for this reason. I have to admit, it's the best-explained instant dislike to a villain that I've ever seen anyone take in a Newbery. ;P

* Pran sits back in the shadows near the door, watching unseen. The other men politely offer Mark coffee and tobacco, and he rolls a cigarette for himself. Mark and Ndrek talk about Mark's journey; Mark plans to buy cartridges in Gjakova, across the border in Kosovo. This is a dangerous trip, but Mark doesn't seem worried. Presumably he is sympathetic to the anti-Albanian people in Kosovo.

* None of the other men offer Mark a puff from their own cigarettes, which would be a sign of trust and friendship. Pran concludes that they don't trust Mark any more than she does.

* We hear more and more things that we are told are indicators that Mark is here "on evil business", as Pran concludes. He has a slanting scar under his chin as if someone once tried to cut his throat, which Pran decides means that he will be reckless and not mind risking death; he has a valuable amber mouthpiece to his cigarette holder, unlike Ndrek's plain black wood one; he sounds vaguely untrustworthy when he answers the toast that goes with coffee-drinking in traditional Albania, "For good to you," with the traditional answer "May you too find good".

* Apparently Albanians of this place and era nodded their heads for "no" and shook their heads for "yes". Wow. That sounds like it could be very confusing when they first had contact with outsiders.

* Mark makes small-talk which Pran reads as "guarded questions, false innocence behind them" -- asking whether the crops were good, for instance, to which Ndrek says not-quite-truthfully that they were very good. Is Mark some kind of weird food spy?

* No, he's a... a double agent of some sort; he seems to know the truth, that there is danger of famine in some of the border towns, and he brings up the subject of getting grain from the Slavs across the border, or even allying with them and submitting to them without bloodshed. Ndrek rejects the idea, as do the other men, and the conversation devolves into flat-out calling Mark a traitor to his face and telling him to go away and tell his masters that there is no sympathy for his traitor's talk in this area.

* Pran deduces also that none of the men believe, as she does not, that Mark is a real native Albanian; he must be a Slav spy and fifth-columnist going by an Albanian name. (Was the common English pronounceability of the name "Mark" as opposed to names like "Ndrek" meant to indicate the fakeness of the name to us? I thought it was a bit odd, but I don't know enough Albanian to tell.)

* Ndrek checks his rifle pointedly, then remarks that if anyone starts a fight in his house, it's his responsibility and he'd rather not be involved in a blood-feud with either of the groups seated at his fire right now. Mark backs off and says he was only joking, though Pran's POV narration makes sure we know he's lying and only backing down because he's scared.

* Now Ndrek tells Mark in detail about all the households and farms of the area, giving disinformation - exaggerating the number of fighting men and the amount of food available to keep them through the winter. Ndrek hopes thus to discourage the Slavs from attacking, since Mark will surely go back to the King of the Southern Slavs, his employer, and report Ndrek's words.

* Ndrek politely invites Mark to stay the night, but Mark chooses to leave. Pran goes to bed on one side of the room with the two grown-up women, and the four men lie down on the floor around the fire to sleep.

* The last bit of the chapter is about Pran applying the name "Man of the black face" - apparently a colloquial Albanian term for a traitor - to Mark in her thoughts, and thinking of an old song about another traitor named Mark who is called "man of the black face" in that song.

* Chapter 3 is called "Nush". When it starts, Pran is taking her two little brothers out to cut fresh green branches to feed the goats and sheep all winter. (Albania, not being a prairie land, doesn't rely on hay to feed its livestock through the winter like America does.)

* We hear in detail how the children are dressed: Pran in a striped skirt, a white woolen blouse and jacket, and a white headcloth against the sun; the boys in tight trousers and jackets with cummerbunds like the grown menfolk, but with knives in their belts and no guns, and they wear little "cup-like" caps - the qeleshe (also called a "plis"). Their heads are shaved except for a small scalplock under the cap.

* It is a month after Mark's visit. Pran and her two brothers walk for a good hour to the valley where they'll cut branches. The boys sing a battle song they learned from a schoolmate. Pran sings along - the boys' voices high and shrieking, her own an octave lower, as traditional Albanian mixed singing is apparently done.

* The two little boys climb trees in the valley and cut the branches, which fall to the ground where Pran gathers them into heaps. There's some banter among the siblings, and then a young man about Pran's age - not old enough to carry a gun - turns up and starts singing along with a nonsense song Nik was singing to himself while he worked.

* The young man apparently comes from a different area, since the braid on his jacket is in a different pattern from the tribal pattern worn by Pran's brothers and father. The little boys run to greet him politely, then lead him up the hillside to meet Pran.

* He has "a finely cut face with pleasant blue-gray eyes and a strong, friendly mouth". Blah blah blah. I AM SO TIRED of being told as soon as I meet any character whether I should like them or not by the use of loaded adjectives! Bah humbug, I say! Bah humbug! :P

* The boy is called Nush, he comes from "far off" but now lives with his uncle Prentash Gjoka in a place called Plani, which I presume is nearby. *checks* Yes, using the Anglicized names of the town, I see on Google Maps that Plan, Albania, is about six miles as the crow flies from Theth, Albania.

* Nush eats lunch with Pran and her brothers, and they chat about Nush's business; he's been to Skrodra, an important market town in north Albania, to the bazaar, and is returning to his uncle's house. Nush sold two wooden water-kegs at the bazaar, and is carrying the silver money home.

* Nush mentions that he heard rumors in the bazaar that the Slavs plan to attack Albania soon. He says the talk sounded serious and Pran should mention it to her father.

* Then to cheer Pran up, Nush offers to show her and the boys a smoked-out bee-tree which has had some honey left in it, which they can collect and eat. Any kind of sugar is a rare treat in Pran's house, so she and her brothers are happy to go and do this.

* There is a quick-flowing mountain stream in the way; they must all take off their shoes and stockings and knitted over-socks, and jump from one stepping-stone to another across the rushing flood.

* Pran insists that Nik, who is headstrong, have his cummerbund tied around his waist like a leash so she can hold him back while the others cross -- but at some point he jerks this out of her hand and falls into the water, washing down the rapids into a whirlpool. Apparently he can't swim.

* Nush jumps into the whirlpool to rescue Nik, who is fine, just very cold and wet. Nush is extremely apologetic about leading the group to a place where Nik could get into such danger, though Pran thanks him heartily for saving Nik's life.

* Nush carries the twins across the stream on his back, one at a time, for safety's sake. When they get back to the valley, Pran ties the branches into a big bundle with a rope she brought for the purpose, and Nush bids the group goodbye as they head toward home.

* Chapter 4 is called "Feast Day".

* It is the feast day of Saint John the Apostle. I can't figure out at all what day or even what month that may be, since it's celebrated on many different days depending on the branch of Christianity and the location doing the celebrating. *sigh*

* Anyway, there will be a Mass in the village and then a feast of pork and mutton afterward, given by the richest man in the village, Marash Gjoni.

* Pran changes into fresh, bright dress clothes, with an orange hair-cloth and red over-socks decorated in gold and silver thread, in a pattern copied from the over-socks worn by Gjyl on her visit some time ago.

* The family walk down to the church together. Ndrek puts down his rifle against the church wall along with everyone else's rifles; on feast days like this one, all blood-feuds are under truce or "bessa", so that no one is obligated to kill anyone else till the Mass and the feasting are over. "Such a scheme seemed good and most reasonable to Pran." Honestly it's the first thing I've heard any of these people say that seems especially reasonable to me, either, though that may be the writer's clumsiness more than the actual not-sense-making of any real Albanian folk customs.

* There is a description of the festival Mass, which makes me wonder very much about the research Ms Miller has done; first off, it claims the Mass was in Pran's native tongue so that she understood it. As far as I can discover, this would only be done in the Albanian Orthodox Catholic church, which was just barely getting organized in the 1920s and was not officially recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople (the titular head of all Eastern Orthodox churches, sort of equivalent to the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) until 1937. The other forms of Catholic church available to Pran in northern Albania would be the Roman Catholic Church, which held its Masses in Latin until the 1970s, or the Serbian Orthodox Church, which held its Divine Liturgy in Slavic.

* Furthermore, in describing the Mass, Ms Miller SKIPS COMMUNION. She goes straight from the Consecration (the part of the Mass where the priest says in the words of Jesus "This is my body ... This is my blood" about the holy bread and wine) to "Now mass was done." There is no Catholic denomination that does not have the taking of Communion - i.e. the eating of the holy bread, and sometimes the drinking of the holy wine, by the worshippers - as an integral part of the Mass! It's the central... thing of Catholicism! O_O *facepalm*

So I am less than convinced that the research in this book is really accurate, or that Ms Miller at all understands the Albanian customs she's trying to portray so sympathetically. :P It all sounds very good except where she hits on something I know from ANY OTHER SOURCE. *sigh*

* I'm bored. I'm on page 57, 22% of the way in, and nothing has happened. And I've stopped trusting the writer's research. I'm going to skip to the end and see what happens.

* WHAAAAAT. Okay, let's see. I have to do summaries of each chapter to make sure I'm making sense of what this is saying.

* Chapter 4 tells of the feast day, and of how Pran wanders away from the feast and meets Nush by the spring. He has some reason he can't attend the feast and let anyone know where he lives. But he carries a small gold Turkish coin, which he says is a message for Gjyl - who has come to the feast - and he asks Pran to get the coin to Gjyl. Pran agrees and does so, and Gjyl reacts very mysteriously, saying "You have brought peace." Then Pran goes home.

* In Chapter 5, which takes place in the spring and is called "Pran's Errand", Pran carries her ailing baby cousin Kol on the journey to Skodra to see the doctor -- a four-day round trip, with two overnight stays on the way and one in Skodra. This is the frontispiece picture, Pran spinning wool and carrying baby Kol on her back.

* The doctor in Skodra is of the Islamic faith (the book uses the outdated term "Mussulman"), but treats Islamic and Christian patients just the same. The book uses the Albanian slang term "white faced" for him, meaning a good and true-hearted person. :P

* Anyway, the doctor gives Pran medicine for the baby, and the nurse bathes the baby and gives Pran instructions for his mother, and then Pran goes to the bazaar, and that's the end of the chapter.

* In Chapter 6, "Mountain Fire", Pran looks about the bazaar for Nush but doesn't notice him at first, because he's dressed in Islamic garb with a red fez on his head. After some conversation, Nush gives Pran a present - a necklace - and then takes her out of the city after dark and shows her the signal fires that are just now being lit on the mountain-tops. They signal that the Slavs are attacking, that war is imminent. Nush is heading south, but he asks Pran to warn her people when she gets home, and she agrees. The chapter ends the next morning when she starts for home.

* In Chapter 7, "Lit Sky", it is two weeks later, after Easter, and everyone is ready for the war to come. One evening, Pran sees the light of a burning village reflected on the sky, and tells her family. Ndrek and the other men go out in that direction, after a scout reports back, and the women and children get ready to head down the mountain trail toward the relative safety of Skodra, carrying their food on their backs. Ndrek comes back in the morning, reporting that the enemy is not very close yet but that raiding bands are going on ahead and that the women and children had better head on out. They do so, and crowd into abandoned Turkish barracks in Skodra city, since there are no regular lodgings available for the inhabitants of several whole villages.

* In Chapter 8, "Refugee", Pran befriends an orphan girl named Dil from closer to the Albanian/Slavic border, and Dil teaches Pran some bits of the Slavic language. Pran and Dil help an old Muslim woman make twig brooms to sell, which brings in some income for Pran's family. One day Pran sells the goat, Hâna, and happens to pick up two small refugee children who turn out to be Dil's missing brother and sister, Notz and Lul.

* Chapter 9 is called "News and a Journey". Lul dances in the street to earn pennies from passersby, and one man tells Pran that the Albanian fighters in the north need food and that the women should sell anything of value they have, any silver necklaces or whatever, and buy food and carry it north to their menfolk. This man has a messenger who will find out for Pran's family where Ndrek is. When the messenger comes, he suggests that Pran should go by back ways through the mountains to carry the food to Ndrek, since it's safer for a woman to go to the front than a man, and safer for anyone not to travel by the road, which is watched.

* Dil sees Pran off, and she travels to the place where the fighters are encamped, a valley called Kastrati, but which Ms Miller unwisely anglicizes as "Castrati". O_O Pran finds Ndrek and they talk together - he states that Gjon is the official male head of the household while Ndrek is away - then Pran goes to bed down on the other side of a hill with the other women who have brought food to their menfolk today.

* Chapter 10 is called "Pran Listens". Pran gets lost in the mountains trying to find her way back to Skodra, wanders slightly over the border, and overhears some Slavs talking about a planned ambush that very day. They plan to attack the Albanian fighters from two sides during the noon siesta. Pran finds her way back to camp, and tells the Albanian chief what she heard. He sends her with a young male messenger who knows the way back to Skodra, but she stops on a knoll by the road to and from the battlefield. The Albanians win the battle; Pran sees Nush, wounded in the shoulder, and Ndrek, unhurt. Pran decides that wars should not be, that she should do what she can to urge Albanians to deal with disputes through peaceful talk. Thinking thus, she goes home to her family in Skodra.

* Chapter 11 is called "Back to Thethi". The big battle has ended the war, but the people of Thethi have no food to harvest, so they have to stay in Skodra over the winter and live on the dole given out by the governor till spring. In spring, Pran's family goes back home to Thethi, taking Dil, Notz, and Lul with them. They have seed corn from the Franciscan friars, cornmeal from the Skodra governor to eat, and Notz has saved some of the money that Lul made with her dancing, which the family uses to buy some chickens so that they can eat eggs and some meat before harvest. In the autumn, the family hears that the truce which the Albanian tribes made when the Slavs attacked is still in force, so that any man can travel about without fear of blood-feud.

* Pran and Dil talk about marriage, since it is fall and they're both of marriageable age. It comes up that some Albanian women do not marry; instead they become "mountain nuns" (the book's term) or sworn virgins.

* Pran is thinking that she does not want to be sent off to marry a man she has never seen, in the way of most Albanian marriages of the time, but then her thoughts turn immediately to Nush. She wonders if he's gotten well after the battle. It turns out that Nush gave a message to Pran's brother Nik asking Pran to meet him, Nush, at a certain place and time, but Nik forgot all about the message till a week after the appointed time. However, Nush also said that he thinks of Pran "always" and asks her not to forget him.

* Chapter 12 is called "Lukja's Secret". Man, this is a slow book! Anyway, it's late autumn, and in brief, what happens is that Lukja tells Pran that Ndrek has betrothed Pran to someone and Pran must marry in a year. Pran says "I do not wish to wed". Lukja tries to encourage her and tells her "it is a woman's life", and that the man she is betrothed to is called Prendnush son of Prenk. Ndrek knows and trusts this man, and has chosen him from many to be the best possible husband to Pran -- but Pran still does not want to marry anyone.

* Or so she thinks, until she's talking the matter over with Dil in bed that evening, and realizes that she's in love with Nush. Yadda yadda. Sorry, I just find it really exasperating that a female character of marriageable age can almost never have a "happy ending" without being somebody's love-interest. :P

* Pran decides that rather than marry this unknown man to whom she is betrothed, she will become a sworn virgin - which involves living as a man, wearing trousers and carrying a gun, though the author is very very careful to point out that Pran is totally cisgender and has no particular desire to live as a man for any reason but avoiding this forced marriage. (Which, I mean, is a thing that historically happened. Not all Albanian sworn virgins were what we'd call transgender, though some were. It's still kind of... disappointing, I guess, to have the author being SO VERY POINTEDLY CLEAR that -- I mean, listen to this: "no longer even to wear a woman's garb--to carry the sign and symbol of a man--a rifle--on her girl's back? Something deep in herself revolted at the thought." I know this is an accurate portrayal of the feelings of some women who chose to become sworn virgins without being transgender, but... it's a very disappointing choice, to write about someone who's so militantly cisgender in the one context where a transgender or genderqueer protagonist could be halfway acceptable to a Euramerican audience. :P)

* The vow of a sworn virgin was usually lifelong, according to the Wiki page, and breaking it was punishable by death, but under certain conditions the sworn virgin could be freed from her vow, at her request, if her reason for taking the vow was no longer in force. In this case, Pran notes that she will have to stand by the vow for as long as her unwanted fiancé is alive. The chapter ends with her telling her parents of her decision.

* Chapter 13 is called "Nush Again". Pran takes her vow of sworn virginity before twelve witnesses, who warn her that if Ndrek tries to marry her off to anyone not her current fiancé, then the families of all twelve witnesses as well as the family of her current betrothed will be honor-bound to seek vengeance against Ndrek. Winter passes, spring comes, Pran does women's work - spinning and weaving and knitting - but eats with the men and sometimes goes out carrying her gun to walk on the mountain trails and think. One day she meets Nush by the path, and it comes out that he himself is Prendnush, her betrothed!

* Nush is Gjyl's son, and as I noted at the beginning of this VERY LONG THING, someone wants to kill him in a blood feud. So he was sent away from his home region, and Gjyl was not told where he went; he didn't even use his proper name, so nobody could find him. He was betrothed to Pran way back at the beginning of the book, but Pran never knew, and Nush thought she took the vow of virginity because she didn't want to marry him, rather than because she didn't want to marry someone else. (Young idiot.)

* But there is another problem: the "bessa" or truce that started during the Slav war is about to end, and the council of men is refusing to renew it. Once it ends, Nush will be "in blood", and if Pran marries him, then she'll have to worry every day of her life about whether this is the day her husband dies violently. But since Pran is still a sworn virgin, allowed to speak in council like a man, Nush urges her to go and speak in favor of peace.

And I am REALLY CROSS about that. It would have been so easy for the writer simply to have Pran realize this herself! Just to have the girl take her own agency, and say, "I can speak in council, I will tell the men they should extend the bessa." Not to have THE MAN OF HER HEART use her as a catspaw, willing or no, to go and speak in council for him! :P Blagh. I am angry now, O Elizabeth Cleveland Miller! You had such an easy chance to become the first Newbery writer to write a female character having agency over her own life. THE FIRST, do you understand me? And you throw it away. :P

* Anyway. In chapter 14, Pran and others speak out for peace, and the council decides to extend the bessa. Once that is done, Pran can notify her parents and the witnesses that the circumstances which caused her to take her vow have changed - she is willing to marry her betrothed husband - and therefore she is free from the vow. And in chapter 15, she is married.

This was a really slow book. And I'm really disappointed with the one pivotal scene that kept this from being the very first Newbery book about a female protagonist with agency. :P

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