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Polish is the operative word; Helprin's unnamed narrator illuminates this dark, poignant story with characteristically refulgent prose, to which Van Allsburg's 13 color scenes of theatrically posed, golden-toned figures add sparkling elegance. A troubled peace follows the usurper's flight behind the remote Veil of Snows, and he soon returns to shatter the Queen's army, kill her husband (seemingly), and oppose her and her infant son with two million men. After a bitter siege, the Queen and her last 100,000 loyal followers escape the capital city and disperse into the mountains, where she is pursued and killed. Helprin injects a garishly satiric hue into this tale by filling it with corpulent, venial, opportunistic Tookisheims, a family whose government is headed by the Duke, a media mogul whose papers are relentlessly critical of the Queen, and Branco, who "makes the talking boxes that take the place of books." After 25 years of waiting beside the Veil, the narrator symbolically casts away the last of his hope—just as the Queen's husband and grown son march out of the mists at the head of a new army. As with the previous books, the language, imagery, and wit are aimed at sophisticated sensibilities; Helprin's bottomless imagination and Van Allsburg's monumental visual style create a collaboration that glitters with star quality.
Posted January 1, 2002
The Veil of Snows completes the trilogy that began with Swan Lake and A City in Winter. Helprin readers will immediately notice familiar themes: the magical use of ice, snow and cold to create a mythical landscape where anything can, and does, happen; the power of good over evil; and the polished and sophisticated prose of Mark Helprin. The Veil of Snows is narrated by a singer of tales and we first encounter him as an elderly man fetching water from a mountain stream near the magical Veil of Snows that divides the world as we know it from the world of unknown shadows. The story takes place in a faraway, timeless kingdom in which a beautiful and righteous Queen must struggle against the forces of an evil usurper. The Queen, who has spent most of her life struggling against the usurper, is a woman of deep empathy and an utter lack of pretension. Her reign has been marked by a deep and heartfelt concern for the liberty and freedom of her subjects although she has been vigorously opposed by the Duke of Tookisheim and his repugnant relatives. The Tookisheims represent all that is base and crass in human nature just as the Queen and the narrator represent all that is noble and good. The Tookisheims are reminiscent of Faulkner's Snopes clan and are comprised of offbeat characters with equally offbeat names. When the Queen interrupts a dinner party at the Tookisheim estate to rescue a small girl, matters boil over and open rebellion ensues. The Tookishiems, the Queen, her husband, the usurper and the narrator all become involved in battle with varying degrees of success and failure. Helprin takes us for an emotional rollercoaster ride as things look first hopeful, then hopeless, then hopeful once again for the virtuous Queen. Of course, we do know the narrator, himself, survives and as he tells us this, his last and greatest tale, we slowly learn the fate of the other characters in the book. Even more surprisingly we see, through the narrator's own eyes, the unfolding of a special event for which he has unknowingly been waiting all these years. Anyone who enjoys Mark Helprin will find The Veil of Snows a magical and glorious tale. It is truly a literary treat and the illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg complement Helprin's prose most wonderfully. Although this book may seem like a fairy tale it is definitely a fairy tale for adults to enjoy and appreciate. There are some scenes of violence that are definitely not appropriate for young children and the complexity of Helprin's style and imagery might even be too challenging for teenagers as well. This is, however, a book of timeless love and uncompromising beauty that most adults would cherish.
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