The Saskiad Essay - Critical Essays

Brian Hall

The Saskiad

Twelve-year-old Saskia White lives on the nearly deserted commune where she was born, a responsible, bookish girl given to elaborate fantasies based on THE ODYSSEY, the life of Tycho Brahe, and the adventures of Marco Polo, among others. Because her mother, Lauren, is distant and busy running the commune, Saskia has taken over the mothering of herself and her “crew,” the four young children of a chain-smoking waitress, Jo.

Saskia has developed a crush on a new girl in her school, Jane Singh, who is everything Saskia is not. Jane is tall, dark, with long black hair and natural grace. Soon they are friends, and Jane participates, with the crew, in Saskia’s adventurous fantasy play.

Saskia’s father, the legendary, spiritually pure Thomas, has been absent for many years, and Lauren refuses to talk about him. Just before Saskia’s thirteenth birthday, Thomas invites Saskia to go a trek with him in Europe.

Wrangling the permission of Jane’s parents, the two girls fly off to join Thomas, who proves to be a demanding tour guide on their wilderness hike. He is the quintessential ecologist, alert to all manner of offense to mother earth, and they find that their journey will culminate in efforts to save a pristine river from being dammed. Yet when Saskia, desperate to form a union between the three of them, pushes Jane in his direction, Thomas takes advantage of the situation.

Thomas returns with the girls to the commune and takes over from a willing Lauren, changing every aspect of their lives to fit his heightened ecological consciousness. When the pressures of his relationship with Jane prove too much, Thomas flees. After running away herself, Saskia learns that, like Odysseus, Thomas may be as much a liar as he is an adventurer.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, December 1, 1996, p. 642.

Boston. LXXXIX, February, 1997, p. 146.

Library Journal. CXXI, November 1, 1996, p. 107.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 26, 1997, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, January 19, 1997, p. 17.

The New Yorker. LXXIII, March 10, 1997, p. 92.

The Observer. November 24, 1996, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, January 13, 1997, p. 49.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 18, 1996, p. 24.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, February 9, 1997, p. 8.