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Breath and Bones [Paperback]

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Item description for Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal...

In 1884, Famke Summerfugl is ousted from her convent in Denmark for . . . sensuousness and pulled from servitude by a second-rate painter named Albert Castle. Loving to be looked at, and able to stand perfectly still without shivering, Famke is the ideal artist's model. When Albert takes his eight-foot masterpiece and leaves his model behind, Famke sets out over the Atlantic, convinced that she is his muse. Following Mirabilis, her highly acclaimed debut, Susann Cokal blends pre-Raphaelite painting, American brothels, Utahan polygamists, a bit of cross-dressing, a dynamite-wielding labor movement, one California millionaire, and the invention of electircal sexual stimulation (as treatment for consumption) into a comic novel that gallops across the American West.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   407
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.2 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 15, 2006
Publisher   Unbridled Books
ISBN  1932961151  
ISBN13  9781932961157  

Availability  0 units.

More About Susann Cokal

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Susann Cokal is the author of two previous novels, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, and her short stories and literary criticism have been published in literary journals and the New York Times Book Review. Currently an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Susann Cokal lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Susann Cokal currently resides in Richmond, in the state of Virginia.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary

Reviews - What do customers think about Breath and Bones?

Opportunities lost  Jan 8, 2007
Susanna Cokal introduces us to Famke, a poor Danish orphan with Tuberculosis whose sex appeal gets her in trouble with the nuns and in bed with the rest of the orphanage, a painter, a polygamist morman & an early model vibrator, all while a multitude of others pursue what's under her skirts across the Atlantic and the American West in the late 1800s. Cokal's debut novel "Miribilis" was darkly sexual & intriguing - she clearly has the imagination and skill to deliver tantalizing stories! But in comparison, "Breath and Bones" disappoints.

Famke searches for Albert, a narcissistic mediocre painter with whom she believes herself to be in love, throughout the story. Her quest takes her across the Atlantic and the United States, into a polygamist family, and in and out of numerous brothels in the west. Famke's story lacks bits of reality needed to keep this reader truly interested. Though she is a young woman who apparantly oozes sex and is traveling alone, she encounters no violence. She is blissfully ignorant and blind to obvious coercion, and appears to be an accomplice to her own "captivity" at times. Further, she is wildly successful posing as a man and a painter though she is neither and descriptions of her physical appearance and artistic abilities lead one to wonder how she could have pulled off either ruse. Her luck and ability to land on her feet, which I suppose may amuse some, seemed too contrived.

Stories of such a physical journey during the early years of a young woman's life often parallel an internal journey to finding a sense of self, self respect, etc. Famke's character, however, remains nearly one-dimensional. She is stubborn about her health to the point of her near death. She misses out on opportunities for true affection to pursue a narcissist who never respected her. She does not use her voice to defend herself at any opportunity. Famke is hell-bent on believing her limited exposure to "art" via Albert is perfect, unassailable and complete. These components of character were offered with little context and simply just didn't add up.

Cokal opens and closes the book with a morbid scene which holds promise of a dark and gruesome story, but somehow that promise is lost in the pages between. The elements which advertise this to be a bizarre and ribald tale (polygamists, brothels, etc) only provided an off-beat background for this meandering middling tale.
A soul's pursuit - It's worth the time.   Sep 15, 2005
In Breath and Bones, Susann Cokal explores pursuit - of beauty, perfection, art, love, lust, survival and even death. Possessed by their own addictions, each character follows one after another that person they believe will fulfill the missing pieces of their lives.

The repetition of the searching threatens to smother the reader until he or she falls beneath the surface of the plot to ponder the compulsions that drive humans toward that something they believe will make them whole.

Cokal bids us ask - Are our perceptions and reflections true or merely creatures of our soul's pursuits?

Maundering Journey  Aug 26, 2005
Not written as well as I like. Cokal should have restrained herself a bit, instead of indulging herself and sending the protagonist on many ridiculous, not to mention fanciful, journeys. A failed picaresque novel indeed. Got so tired of the outlandished plot of the novel that I stopped reading--which is very unusual for me. I would not recommend this book.
"And thus she resigned herself to the one path open to her"  Jul 1, 2005
Art, science, sex, and the unstoppable geography of love, feature in this story of absolute Dickensian proportions. Set in 1886, Susan Cokal's gorgeously imagined Breath and Bones, is a sweeping saga, a giant feat of literary imagination that covers two continents and is told with a kind of breathy, wild, and unadulterated abandon.

From the snowy streets of Copenhagen to a remote dust-filled Mormon settlement in Utah, to the rough-and-ready mining towns of Colorado and points west - San Francisco, the city of artistic and intellectual enlightenment, Breath and Bones is always compelling and never dull.

Famke Summerfugl has recently been released from the Immaculate Heart Catholic Orphanage. Young, and idealistic, but also hard working, Famke finds employment as a house cleaner for a Herr Skatkammer. However, Famke is soon awakened to the possibilities of art and life, and is almost immediately seduced by English Painter Albert Castle.

Offering to pose as his muse, and desperately wanting more "detail, more beauty and more of the world," Famke soon falls in love with the young artist. The affection is reciprocated, as Albert is absolutely besotted with her naked, and unabashed beauty; he likens Famke to a gorgeous Botticelli angel and vows to immortalize her stunning beauty in a painting.

Albert's paints Famke as the myth of Nimue; it's his magnum opus and he believes it will be hung in the English Royal Academy's annual exhibition. He also hopes it will allow him to join the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, win him respect and commissions, and convince his father to continue the financial support.

For Famke, Albert is her savior and hero, so when he heads to America, Famke, remains totally lovesick "and in love with all the passion and force and urgency and trepidation of her years." With an unusual blend of naiveté and courage, opportunism and single-mindedness, Famke fends off assaults on her virtue and sets off across the Atlantic following the no-better-than-average painter who has abandoned her.

But America is not the land of hope and glory that Famke was led to believe. Mired with a bloody, rasping cough, that steadily debilitates her, Famke traverses a country on the verge of industrialization in search of her true love, her beauty and unadulterated loveliness steadily captivating the people of the West.

Famke ends up in Utah, married to Heber Goodhouse, a Mormon, who wants to establish his fortune by farming silk worms. A Nordic soul trapped in the land of dust and heat, Famke plots her escape, frustrated and homesick, she never gets enough: enough air, Albert, and paintings.

In Denver, she tries to convince herself that the huge, rough, rushing city of brick buildings and carriages resembles Copenhagen. The city emanated the stench that accompanied all flourishing enterprises: "coal, smoke, sewers, and carthorse dung." For this is the world of the Wild West, "a world of mutilated Indians, gun-holstered ranchers, and whole flocks of "Ludere" - prostitutes."

The stockyards fill the air with the reek of blood and the mountains of white and bones inspire a lonesome feeling that makes Famke cry. But she keeps going, because the West is a place where men are likely to buy buckeyes and potboilers; obscure works by unknown artists. Dressed like a man so that she can survive more easily, Famke sleeps in inexpensive bagnios, nickel-a-night flophouses, and hog ranches - homes for decrepit prostitutes who now sell themselves cheap.

As Famke follows Albert's trail, from saloon to saloon to general store, she discovers that he has left behind a string of portraits of prostitutes, executed with overtones of Danish warrior women, Valkries, and muses, tinged with Pre-Raphaelite romanticism - all with some element of her, or so she hopes.

Cokal writes with a formidable knowledge of the period, bringing to life a many-layered and multi-faceted America. This is an America that is full of polygamists, wide-eyed immigrants, corrupt journalists, prostitutes, and amateur scientists, all of whom are seduced into the West and it's promise of wealth, adventure and prosperity. It's a time of profound, tumultuous change with the author focusing on the human face, the individuals who value the fragile beauty of the earth, the vivid colors, and the promise of new growth and expansion.

Our gutsy and fearless heroine flees from one tight spot to another, while gradually getting sicker with tuberculosis, "the worms gnawing their way into her lungs, spinning their artful cocoons to smother her." While all the time she aches to be reunited with Albert - hoping that she might paint along side him matching his strokes with her own until there is no telling where his work ends and hers begins.

Sanctuary for Famke intermittently comes in the form of amateur doctor, Edward Versailles, and his Hygeia Springs Institute for Phthisis. Famke is a goddess in his eyes, a woman whose funereal loveliness seemed to "call into question the capacity of art to represent anything at all."

The characters in Breath and Bones are alive with the pulsating heart of history; they're grappling with change in a world where the artistic, scientific, and the economic have often formed uneasy and ill-at-ease alliances. Cokal paints a portrait of a world alive with the possibilities of hope, courage, love, and of mythical and divine immortality. Mike Leonard June 05.
A sexy, exuberant, beautifully written picaresque!  May 15, 2005
From its stunning prologue to the disturbing, shattering beauty of its finale, Breath and Bones gets under your skin. This sexy, exuberant picaresque takes you and its heroine on a fast-paced ride from Copenhagen to San Francisco via the wild west of the late nineteenth century, but each place it takes you is so immediate and vividly rendered it stays with you long after you close the book. Cokal's originality, humor, and extraordinary ear for language purge historical fiction of its fustiness and bring it to life.

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