Written by Beate Sigriddaughter

Published by: Lulu Press

Reviewed by: Eileen Colucci

Genre: Fiction

What does one think of upon hearing the word "unicorn?" A beautiful, white, mythical creature, perhaps, with a horn in the center of its forehead, symbolizing its rarity as well as its powers of salvation and healing? Beate Sigriddaughter's title character from The Unicorn And... is all that and more. At times serving as its author's muse, other times her alter-ego, this unicorn has much wisdom to impart regarding the human condition.

This wisdom is dispersed in the alternating form of poetry, fable, flash fiction, and one-liners, capturing moments in the unicorn's life that are at once humorous and heart-rending. Sigriddaughter delights in upending classic fables, as in Sour Grapes, and takes allegory to new levels, as in The Hunter and the Unicorn. She strives for peace and harmony and dreams of a world where romantic and sentimental notions are not bad things for a writer to cultivate. In the unicorn's view, those traits have their place in literature as much as (or more than) blood and gore and Mailer-like machismo. Sigriddaughter's gift is that, through the unicorn's decidedly feminine eyes, she is able to portray humans with irony and satirical wit without descending into cynicism.

There are a few, albeit rare, exceptions like The Movie Buff. Here, the unicorn is inspired by Crocodile Dundee's line, "Don't kill anything unless you are planning to eat it." Literally teetering on a soap box, the unicorn dares to suggest to the increasingly hostile crowd that:
"All political leaders who involve their countries and others in war should be required to eat human flesh for dinner... That will give them a clearer sense of what they are doing." Perhaps, this is an example of the unicorn "thinking like a human being," a compliment that makes it wince. This story is in one of my favorite sections of the book, War and Peace, and I confess to a preference for two other selections. In Quest for the Goddess of Peace, the unicorn touchingly begs a weary Irene to teach it a new language, the language of peace, and it promises to pray to her daily. And in Vandalism, the unicorn, in a very human-like gesture indeed, alters a sign posted outside a church and secretly wishes to be caught in the act.

Among other professions, the unicorn considers becoming a writer. Throughout the book, there are many insights on the "common wisdom" versus the unicorn's own take on the subject. It looks at the trouble an artist faces in constantly trying to keep reality at bay (Feng Shui for Michaelangelo) while simultaneously reveling in and keeping "in touch with things, and with the splendid friction of reality" (The Caterpillar). But, the theme which resounds throughout this provocative work is the artist's dilemma of "balancing on a trapeze between rules and desire." The unicorn suggests, "Why not write without conflict? Why not write about a world where men and women honor each other?" And the professor replies, "You know the rules. No conflict, no story. And besides your reader would be bored to tears." The unicorn's response to that is, "Maybe not all readers. Maybe not all writers."

In Evangelism, the unicorn takes it a step further and asks, "What's wrong with preaching to the choir?" It proposes, "That was the thing to do. Better yet, (the unicorn) could even sing to the choir. That would strengthen those who were already singing so they would not be tempted to stop." And that is exactly what Sigriddaughter has dedicated herself to. Through her writing and the Glass Woman Literary Prize which she has established, she encourages other women writers to write truthfully about the world as they see it, even if their vision does not match the generally accepted or anointed one. Brava, Ms. Sigriddaughter, for your talent and commitment. As the unicorn would say: "Sing on! Fortissimo, but sweetly."

A native New Yorker, Eileen Coluccihas lived in Rabat for over twenty-five years with her husband, a Moroccan architect. They have two sons. Colucci's essays and short stories have been featured in various publications including Fodor's Morocco, Parents' Press and Expat Women. A former teacher, she is currently a translator. The Strings of the Lute is her first novel. Visit Eileen's website: http://www.eileencolucci.com.


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