Monday, July 27, 2009

5. Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill

My friend Jeff recommended Ursula, Under to me after falling endlessly in love with it. I put it down on my list of recommendations and checked it out of the library without knowing what it was about. When I finally read the book jacket description, I got a little worried. The book tells the story of a little girl named Ursula who falls down a mine shaft and the ensuing rescue attempt. The story jumps from that of Ursula and her immediate family to tales of some of their ancestors, from a Chinese alchemist who lived 2,000 years earlier to a playmate of the future queen of Sweden in the 17th century. It all sounded a bit... high-brow? I knew that this was not a book I could get through in a couple of hours; rather, it was a journey for the characters and myself.

It took me a long time to feel invested in the story. While I liked reading about Ursula and her parents in the present day, I had a hard time wanting to know about her ancestors from the distant past. The more recent the stories of her ancestors, the more interested I was. I think that's because their stories felt more relatable to me. Or maybe it's simply a matter of feeling more in my comfort zone; I'm not sure. Once I was about halfway through, I really settled in and enjoyed myself. I particularly liked the story of Violeta, the aforementioned playmate of the future queen of Sweden. 

It almost seems like you have to finish the book before you can process it at all. There is a question raised at the beginning of the story by a drunken society woman watching the rescue coverage on the news: Why spend all this time and effort to rescue some worthless trailer trash kid? The easy answer is that the little girl is not worthless simply because her family does not have much money and does in fact live in a trailer. The more complex response is that the universe doesn't make mistakes -- this little girl that is the cause of so much time and effort and heartache is a life that has been thousands of years in the making. Every decision, every action by her ancestors and every experience they went through led directly to the creation of this joyful little girl whose favorite color is purple. Every life is intertwined with every other life in this world, and not saving Ursula would be a catalyst for unimaginable consequences. 

This book will undoubtedly make you think of your own history and distant relatives. I know stories of my family, but only going as far back as two or three generations at most. I don't know where my ancestors were or what they were doing 200 or 2,000 years ago, but whatever their stories are, those stories have allowed me to exist. It's kind of amazing to realize how intertwined your own existence is with others, in the past, present and future. 


Annie said...

Thanks, Maggie, that book sounds really interesting!

Next time we visit Portland we should make sure all Grandma V's research about our family is written down somewhere!

Magnolia said...

I know! I was thinking about her when I was done reading.