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5.0 out of 5 stars About a Dorothy who never gets to leave Kansas
In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum the fictional Dorothy spends just four pages in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry before a cyclone takes her to Oz, a country of marvelous beauty. This novel explores the life of a fictional Dorothy who never escapes the harsh reality of her life in Kansas except in the world of her imagination.
WAS mixes a...
Published on Feb. 13 2003 by F. Orion Pozo

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars To Hell and Back
A while back, I read the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire and I asn't all that thrilled with it. I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was constantly anticipating the events and trying to match them up with what happened in the original story. Whatever it was, it kept me from...
Published on Dec 6 2001 by M. J. Musante


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5.0 out of 5 stars About a Dorothy who never gets to leave Kansas, Feb. 13 2003
By 
F. Orion Pozo "Orion Pozo" (Raleigh, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum the fictional Dorothy spends just four pages in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry before a cyclone takes her to Oz, a country of marvelous beauty. This novel explores the life of a fictional Dorothy who never escapes the harsh reality of her life in Kansas except in the world of her imagination.
WAS mixes a historian's dedicated search for details with a fictional story that spans a century to create a sweeping novel of the American experience. Ryman focuses on the tragedy of his characters' lives to help us understand our collective need for a fairy land like OZ where love and kindness are the rule. Using carefully researched historical details Ryman builds a truly believable but sadly horrific story of a fictional Dorothy Gael of Kansas. Placing her in such accurate settings gives incredible power to her story and the stories of those her life inspires. Drawn into the vortex of her tragedy are a mixture of real and fictional characters including L. Frank Baum (the writer of the original Oz novels), the young Judy Garland, an actor with AIDS who is compelled to play the Scarecrow, and his psychotherapist who met the elderly Dorothy just before she dies. The story takes place in the 1870s, the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1980s. Yet these disparate plots and eras are tied together wonderfully and all given a sense of reality based on the historic research that went into the book.
In a postscript called Reality Check at the end of the book the writer sorts out the historic from the fictional. Here he also talks a bit about the philosophy he has toward fantasy and realism, a theme that is constantly addressed throughout the novel. This is not about Oz, except as an ideal. The novel is about the tragedy of life, and it explores why the pain of our lives makes Oz so important to us all.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Actually Toto, we ARE still in Kansas, April 10 2002
By 
Steven Cain (Temporal Quantum Pocket) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Brilliant, beautiful and profoundly disturbing. As many people have given excellent insights into the content of Was, I will just mention my own interpretation of this utter classic.
For me, the book (and even the Baum original) exists on many levels. Whereas Oz may be seen as a quantum pocket within the linear story track, it is the human experiences and the very nature of consciousness and identity that really drives the entire concept.
Yet the search for Dorothy's home is as much a bitter-sweet futility as the search for the Holy Grail, and merely takes you deeper into the Illusion and farther away from your true Self.
This multi character odyssey brings in many profound insights from various classic areas - from Dante's Inferno, the concept that the way to Heaven is through the deepest pit of Hell - from Zen, the concept that there is no Truth that exists outside of you, or as Alan Watts put it, "This is it" - and from the Baghavad Gita, the final realization that the warrior Arjuna learns from Krishna, that there is no mutant enemy, except ourselves.
As the song Tin Man by America suggests, The Wizard of Oz never gave anything to the Tin Man that he didn't already have.
Was and WOZ are both about the concept of Home, of belonging. Like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, they are about Return. The return to the Cosmic Womb of the Great Mother.
I believe what Geoff Ryman is trying to tell us is that when you have finally found yourself, Oz is Kansas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars the other side of Oz, Feb. 4 2002
By 
momazon "cjd" (Astoria, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
WAS explores the reality of Oz, what would have happened if Dorothy Gale was a real little girl in the Midwest left to be raised by her elderly aunt and uncle. Auntie Em does not like the daughter of her flashy prettier sister and sets her to work about the farm and kills her dog Toto. Uncle Henry is a child abuser who repeatedly rapes her. The only shining episode in her life is a brief stint of a substitute teacher, L. Frank Baum, who hears her tell her sorrowful life in a grief-stricken essay and decides to immortalize her in his book as a means of somehow making up to her what life has destroyed.
In parallel stories, Frances Gumm is transforming into Judy Garland, and the straitjackets that stardom in the early Golden Era has to offer --- diet pills, chest bindings, a strident stage mother.
And a gay man named Jonathan in the 1990s who has been obsessed with The Wizard of Oz since childhood searches for meaning in Kansas as he tracks the fate of the real Dorothy before AIDS claims him.
This is a captivating read that will stay with you long after you are finished. You will never look at "The Wizard of Oz" the same way again.
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3.0 out of 5 stars To Hell and Back, Dec 6 2001
By 
M. J. Musante (Westford, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Was (Paperback)
A while back, I read the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire and I asn't all that thrilled with it. I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was constantly anticipating the events and trying to match them up with what happened in the original story. Whatever it was, it kept me from enjoying it as much as others have.
So when Was was recommended to me, I approached it not without a little trepidation, but this time I got all the way through without problems.
Not the most glowing of reviews, but there you are.
How about this instead: I didn't like the book, but I couldn't put it down. Allow me to pull out the old "train wreck" metaphor. You know the one -- where you don't want to watch because it's so horrible, but you can't help but stare in fascination.
Ryman's premise is that Baum, the original author, met a Dorothy in Kansas from whom he (Baum) got the inspriation for his story. The problem is that this Dorothy is evil. Or she becomes evil, thanks to her good old Auntie Em. The defining moment of the book was at the end of the second chapter; the very last sentence of that chapter, in fact. I don't want to give it away here, since it would lose its impact, but I think you'll know it when you read it.
As Ryman takes Dorothy from innocent youth to crotchety old woman, it's hard not to watch, with increasing disbelief, at the amazingly horrible life he pushes her through. First her dog (Toto) is killed, then her new friend dies, then she's becomes an outcast at school, and then her Uncle Henry starts sexually abusing her, and then... well, you begin to get the picture.
So, as I sat there, not enjoying, but not wanting to stop reading, I had to wonder. This book was recommended to me by more than one person; what had they seen it it that made it worthy of recommendation? I'm not questioning their taste. Quite the opposite: I'm questioning my own. Why didn't I like this book as much as they did? It's certainly well-written, and the plot is exceptionally well constructed. Ryman does a great job of pulling fragments of coincidences together to make his story work. So, on that level, at least, it's worthy of recommendation.
I've spent several weeks thinking about this book now, trying to come up with "what it all means." And maybe that's a good thing to say about a book -- any book -- that it makes you think. But there must be other ways, other stories, other means by which one can get one's point across.
Maybe Ryman's concern was that, if I enjoyed the story, I wouldn't think about it, or think about what happened to Dorothy and thank any higher being which may exist that it wasn't me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incandescence, Dec 24 1999
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Everyone loves the Wizard of Oz! Geoff Ryman returns us to childhood, the time when the distinction between art and reality was not so clear. He reminds of the time when seeing a movie like the Wizard of Oz was so powerful that it changed our lives, by crawling up into our tiny heads and never coming down. The Wizard of Oz and films like it are to our culture what the Ramayana is to India; it is a narrative shared by the whole culture together, an epic, a source of references that can lead to mutual understanding, an art form that endlessly gives rise to more and more beautiful art. What is in this book? The true, tragic story of Dorothy; real Munchkins and their make-up artist; a man trying to complete a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Ozism before the disease he carries kills him. Geoff Ryman writes like a delirious angel. I read this book more than three years ago and it still haunts me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Half Way Through, I Couldn't Put It Down, June 11 2003
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Having long been a fan of the original book by Baum and the movie that inspired me to read the book, I was hugely impressed with Ryman's take on this classic.
Why did I like it?
--A narrative that doesn't follow conventional linear tale telling, but instead moves back and forth revealing glimpses of the characters' lives, only giving you the complete picture near the end.
--The richness of the language. Ryman can certainly weave a vision of locales and characters, even when those locations are the middle of a cyclone and the characters are suffering from dementia.
--I cared about what happened to everyone in the book. Even the abusers and the whiners.
--Ryman's ability to link together stories of vastly different people via a zillion Oz metaphors and in-jokes. Especially wonderful is how the Oz themes permeate Jonathan's life.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An intricate and captivating interweaving of fact & fiction!, Feb. 13 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
This is one of my absolute favorite books. Since I am a big fan of Baum's Oz-series, I understood all of Mr. Ryman's references to anything that was Oz-related. His story is very well-written and the author takes the lives of 3 individuals (the "real" Dorothy Gael [sic], Judy Garland, and an actor named Jonathan) and weaves them together seamlessly. I liked his darker version of the life of Dorothy and how she meets Baum, who later pens a brighter version of her difficult life. The descriptions of late 19th-century Kansas were extremely vivid. I sympathized with Jonathan, who is dying of AIDS, and found myself hoping that he would find the truth about Dorothy's life in Kansas. Mr. Ryman is a very talented writer and after reading _Was_ he has become an instant favorite. A must-read for anyone who likes Oz or just likes a well-written story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars In a Perfect World, This Will Be a Classic, June 20 2001
By 
Ricky Hunter (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Geoff Ryman's Was is amazingly good. It tells the story of several trips down the Yellow Brick Road from the tale of the abused orphan, Dorothy Gael, in nineteenth century Kansas to Judy Garland making a movie of a life little Dorothy never had to Jonathan, dying of AIDS, returning to Kansas and his belief in Oz. All of these stories speak the truth about fantasy (if such a thing is possible) and the power of these other worlds to sustain, taunt, and guide us, particulary in childhood. There are many themes throughout this tangled and deliciously written narrative and it will touch any reader who has every felt the power of escape take hold of them as a child and whisk them away for just a little while, like Dorothy in the cyclone. A touching, beautiful tale that easily ranks in my eternal top ten. A book to be treasured and re-read over the years.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Emotional Wringer, Aug. 7 2000
By 
Mandi Frederick (Silver Spring, MD) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Was (Paperback)
It's not the fairy tale that we so wanted it to be when we were young...but now Oz takes on a more human and realistic glow that tears at our emotions until I was sobbing over innocence lost and cheering with the rebirth of hope and fantasy...it's not the Oz you remember or even the Oz you want it to be...but its powerful, and circular, and you feel yourself gripped by it and the sheer human fallibility of the characters that were once infallible...Our heroine is anything but and still I felt nothing but compassion and sympathy for her...The scarecrow is not the fumbling gangly image that I laughed at...he's a scared man about to be consumed with a frightening disease...and the Wizard seems to happen almost by accident...actors and characters and life and fantasy meld into one another that leaves the audience enchanted...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Astoundingly moving, Dec 11 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
Like several others here, I read this book some years ago, soon after it was published, and it has haunted me ever since. It's one of the finest novels I've ever read. I recommend it to everyone.
But unlike some others who've reviewed it here, I have no particular interest in "The Wizard of Oz"--and I don't think that's what the book is about at all. The book is about the search for what was, for home, for safety, for love. It's about how we spend our lives yearning for that perfect security that we had, or think we had, or never had but imagine and long for. About loss--of mother, love, home--and the ways we try to make up for all the losses that accumulate as we age. That's why it is so moving, and why it haunts all who read it. Because everyone has a "was" lingering in memory or subconscious.
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Was by Geoff Ryman (Paperback - May 1 1993)
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