Monday, April 28, 2014

Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine is a book by Ray Bradbury, an American author chiefly known for his science fiction stories such as Fahrenheit 451. It's one of the favourite books of my mother, but I only managed to read it yesterday.

What is this book about? On the surface, it's a story about the summer of the year 1928 in a small American town, seen through the eyes of a boy of 12 called Douglas. It starts with the first day of the school vacation and ends with the town department store displaying the items for a new school year. Summer is over, but every day the boy's Grandpa was plucking dandelions and making wine to drink during the long winter months and to remember the long summer days and what happened on each of them.

Yet, the book is about much more than just adventures of a boy. It's a book about childhood we all left somewhere behind us, about growing older and eventually dying and about things which matter the most in the world. In the beginning of the story, Douglas and his brother Tom are taken to the forest by their father and Douglas suddenly realises that he is alive and that life is a wonderful thing. By the end of summer, he also realises that everything in this world is fleeting and that one day, he will die, too.

The author tells us the stories of life of several inhabitants of the town. There is a jeweller Leo Auffmann, who builds a happiness machine, which by the description of it very much reminds modern television. It shows the one who uses it beautiful far-away places such as Paris but instead of making people happy, it makes them cry as they understand there is little chance for them ever visiting those places. Leo seeks for happiness far away but finally finds it in his own home, just watching his wife and six children.

There is a widow of 72 who spent her whole life collecting things which would tie her to her past experiences and yet the neighbourhood children won't even believe she was ever a young girl and a rightful owner of those things. In the end, she gives most of her stuff away and burns the rest.

There is an old maid of 95 who meets a young journalist of 32 and tells him about her life and travelling to exotic countries and realises only too late the blessings of settling down and starting a family which she never valued when she was young as she was by her own description, a wild thing. Though she is old on the outside, her soul is still young, she compares herself to an old dragon devouring a beautiful swan, but the young man answers, that when she talks, he still can catch the glimpse of the swan.

The lady dies soon after, but expresses hope that her soul will be reborn again in a new body, and once, may be around the year of 1985 or 1990, they will meet each other again and have a chance at happiness.

There is also an old colonel telling boys the stories of the Civil War, though he forgot on which side he had fought. The boys call him a Time Machine and feel that with his death many other people whom he had known or met during his life, are dead, too. There is a story of a neighbourhood witch who repents of her wicked ways and a maniac murdering women who finally gets his comeuppance and many more other things.

In the end of summer, the old Great-grandma dies, too. She spent her whole life caring for her family, cooking and cleaning and canning and doing home repairs, but finally she gets tired of doing the same thing every day and says that it's time to go. She explains to Douglas and his brother, that her family are all part of her, and as she goes, only part of her really dies, while all her children and grandchildren stay behind to carry on, but for Douglas it's still a shocking experience as he thought that Great-grandma was something constant, something which never could go away.

During that summer he also loses his best friend whose family moves to another town. In the end, the summer heat gets him and he becomes sick but lives through it, partly due to the mysterious travelling junk seller and then, the summer is suddenly gone, but they still have the wine, a bottle for each long hot summer day, to drink and to throw the empty bottle away as old clutter and so to prepare for the new summer. More people will die and more babies will be born and the life will go on as usual.

The book is hauntingly beautiful and also hauntingly sad, but it's a good thing as we get older to read it and to remember our own childhood.

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