The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson, was published in 2004 by Dutton.
Annika has never had a birthday. Instead she celebrates her Found Day, the day a housemaid and a cook to three eccentric Viennese professors found her and took her home. There, Annika has made a happy life in the servants’ quarters, surrounded with friends, including the elderly woman next door who regales Annika with stories of her performing days and her countless admirers – especially the Russian count who gave her the legendary emerald, the Star of Kazan. And yet, Annika still dreams of finding her true mother. But when a glamorous stranger arrives claiming to be Annika’s mother, and whisks her away to a crumbling, spooky castle, Annika discovers that all is not as it seems in her newfound home…
The Star of Kazan reminds me a lot of Heidi because it explores similar themes, such as having courage even in hard situations and what makes something home, what makes someone a mother/guardian, etc. It also reminds me of Heidi because Annika and Heidi are very similar protagonists in that they are almost too sweet and nice, almost too perfect.
It’s a cute book, very well-written, with beautiful stories and images throughout. I loved when Annika was sitting with La Rondine and the lady was telling her stories about her life as a dancer. I also loved all the cooking scenes. I’ve only ever read Which Witch? by Ibbotson, which is more humor-centric and ridiculous, so it was nice to see that she can also do something more “serious” (at times it got really dark for a children’s book!).
I did think the plot was beyond obvious (caveat: probably not so obvious to the younger reader to whom the book is aimed), and that for such a simple plot the book was overly long. I also thought it should have ended two chapters earlier than it did, with the lovely closing “After all, this is Vienna.” But Ibbotson decided to close us out with a final look at Edeltraut and Hermann, which wasn’t particularly interesting to me since I didn’t care about either one. Stylistically, I really liked the La Rondine-tribute at the end, even better than the “say goodbye to Zed” end, so I wish the book had ended there.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Mentions of suicide, animal abuse.
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade
The woman stood absolutely still and gazed at her. She lifted up her long arms so that her cloak spread out on either side like a pair of wings, blotting out the two professors. And only then did she say the words of Annika’s dream.
“My child,” said the tall woman, “my darling, darling daughter—have I really found you at last!”
And she stepped forward and took Annika into her arms.