Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief recreates and celebrates the life of a teller of tales born 150 years earlier. Although it is but one of innumerable Andersen biographies, Godden's work is distinctive, uncommonly readable, and inviting. As a writer of fiction, Godden brings her seasoned storytellers craft to the task of rendering sensitively, but not sentimentally, a rich account of Hans, the mercurial man and his matchless work. The familiar facts of Andersen's life find expression in his tales, and Godden fuses fact and fiction beautifully in this book.
Andersen, a "lonely, gentle, grotesque figure," was well acquainted with despair and happiness, heartache and joy. Failure, however, never deterred him long from his stalwart determination to write. Ultimately, late in life, he achieved near-global recognition far beyond anything he expected. Andersen has written, "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale."
Godden's biography, nonetheless, is no fairy tale; it has the "touch of wormwood" Andersen himself thought essential to his fiction. Godden traveled to Denmark to research the book, and she brings the Danish country and culture, past and present, vividly to life for her readers. She involves readers with the people and places that shaped Hans's character, but never drowns them in detail. While Andersen's life unfolds in the pages of this book, the ideas he valued speak quietly, insistently at every turn: faith,...
(The entire section is 247 words.)