Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay is a multifaceted tale abounding with captivating characters set in the 13th century Germany and Italy during the Children’s Crusade.
Sylvia Honeyeater was born with the voice of an angel, the birthmark of a fish on her back between her shoulder blades, and the ability to mimic bird calls and summon them to her. While being sexually abused by her own father, she inadvertently kills him and finds herself alone and orphaned.
By a wild stroke of fate, the town gossip discovers Sylvia’s birthmark and makes an outrageous claim that a miracle has occurred. The town priest is skeptical. Sylvia’s reputation st The priest, however, is not convinced and she soon finds herself banished from the town, her birthplace and home for all of her eleven years.
Sylvia meets Reinhardt, a flute player with the ability to charm and catch rats with his instrument. Together, they journey to Cologne to scrape out a living as musicians. In Cologne, Sylvia lands in a brothel and later a convent, the better of which is the whorehouse.
The story is told in first person narrative through the voice of Sylvia herself. The first chapter is perhaps one of the best, most dynamic first chapters I have ever come across in any book I’ve read. The story unfolds thereafter as an adventure where Sylvia faces numerous obstacles in her journey towards womanhood and maturity.
The book is a bit on the long side and although there were some “slower” parts, it kept me engaged long enough to read to the very end.
Bryce Courtenay is a talented writer whose rich prose brings to life vivid characters and settings. The level of research, evident because of all the rich details strewn throughout its pages, is commendable. Overall, an enjoyable read!