“Le Gardin Animé (1893)” by Victoria Sandbrook (20213 words)
No Spoilers: Zaynab is a doctor and recent widow who has accepted employment with a somewhat eccentric woman and machinist, Madame Lefevre. And once she arrives at the house she finds a strange place populated by automatons who are much more than just machines. They are alive, and more than that they are the Madame’s family, her children. And given how the Madame has been hurt, physically and mentally/emotionally, it makes for a very complicated dynamic. Zaynab enters the situation guided by her professional determination and her own complicated history and experience. Everyone is yearning for something, for family, for love, for connection, for independence, and everyone finds that’s a much more difficult and complicated prospect than they want. The piece plays out a bit like the opera that the Madame and her corps, her children, are supposed to be preparing for, full of drama, beauty, dance, and music. It’s a piece that mixes tragedy with triumph, and builds a moving portrayal of what it means to leave home, and to return.
Keywords: Automatons, Dancing, Injuries, Employment, Family, Doctors
Review: I really like how the story builds up the many characters and the many lines throughout, all weaving them into a rather complete and profound statement on family and on the flawed nature of people. Because people are messy, are damaged and hurt, struggling to find what joys they can, often mis-recognizing that joy as something else. Something fleeting, or something even at odds with what really makes them happy. It deals with dependence and with freedom, with home and with family. Zaynab anchors it all, in some ways an outsider to the drama that will unfold in the house of Madame Lefevre, and as such very much the lens through which the reader gets to experience everything. The miraculous automatons that the Madame was able to construct. The complex and wrenching relationships between the Madame and her children. The almost naive love that Azimuth has, unaware just how much she resembles her mother. The quiet yearning of Elouan to create. The joy that each of them takes in the dance, in the music around them. It’s a beautifully rendered piece, one with a classic structure that hits every note and produces a masterful tale.
And throughout I think I appreciate most the takes on family and on independence. All of the characters are stubborn, all of them hurt and scared. Zaynab of being on her own after her husband died, wanting to go home to her family but at the same time not wanting to lose her freedom and her work. Azimuth wanting to rebel against the strictness of her mother, wanting to love who she wants, not seeing that she does need protection at times, at least until she learns more about the dangers of the world. Elouan, who is so inspired as a student but who wants to be a creator in his own right as well, who is pulled in so many directions because of his loyalties. The Madame herself, who wants to get back onto the stage, to capture the magic she lost when she had her accident so long ago. But also wanting control, wanting to protect her children even from their own potential. They push and they pull, they spark and they grind, but that’s what families do, that’s what families, even found ones, are. And in the end they are also places where people can learn, where Zaynab can learn to be independent enough to return home, where Azimuth can learn to be independent enough to strike out away from home. Where all of them can discover that no one else can tell them or decide for them how to be. That each of them has to decide, and that those decisions might pull them apart for a while. And despite the fear and uncertainty of that, it’s still necessary, and the hope remains that however far away they go, they’ll find each other again, and they’ll all be where they are meant to be. A beautiful and amazing read!