Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What the heck is a bildungsroman?

This is a question I’ve heard more than once when someone stumbles across this term in our library catalogue. And I can’t say I’m surprised - if it’s not a word you’ve encountered before, it’s a bit hard to know where to start looking for meaning.

Webster’s Dictionary defines bildungsroman
as “a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character”, I more simply describe it as a coming-of-age novel. (btw, if you know German, you probably already knew what the term means as it comes from German: Bildung education + Roman novel)

You can search the term “Bildungsromans” as a subject in our library catalogue and get over 900 entries for stories that fit this genre. But, to save you some time - here’s a few of my favourites to get your started:

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie: In lush prose, the author tells the story of two boys sent to the mountains for re-education during the Cultural Revolution. They risk further persecution when they discover a cache of banned western literature and meet the beautiful daughter of the local tailor.

Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether: Growing up in Harlem in the 1930s, Francie experiences hope and despair in a story that Publisher’s Weekly called “A tough, tender, bitter novel of a black girl struggling towards womanhood and survival”. A particularly interesting novel if you've read the story of another fictional Francie, Betty Smith’s classic bildungsroman A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: In a book that by alternately makes you laugh out loud and sob with heartache, the story of Oskar (in my opinion one of fiction’s most precocious and endearing child characters) and his New York City-wide search to find the lock that matches the key he found in his late father’s closet.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb: It’s probably been 10 years since I read this one, so I’m a bit foggy on the plot details, but what I do remember is Lamb’s spot-on depiction of youthful insecurity as a young woman comes to accept herself. Probably one of the most accurate depictions of a female character by a male writer I’ve experienced.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl: Hands down my favourite book of the last few years. Blue van Meer struggles to find her place in the elite private school she begins to attend in her senior year. She’s quirky and smart, but still a teenager faced with the social pressures of high school life. Add to that a mystery that begins to envelop her whole life, and you’ve got the makings of a page turner.

(The book covers at the top of the post link to a few randomly selected bildungsromans from the library collection as well)

No comments:

Post a Comment