The Star of Kazan
First edition cover
|2 July 2004|
The Star of Kazan (2004) is a novel written by Eva Ibbotson. It is about a child called Annika who was left as a baby just days old in a church. A cook and a housemaid take her home to some peculiar professors who live in Vienna.
Two servants, Ellie and Sigrid, were taking a walk when Ellie decides to go into a nearby church to 'Pray for her mother', when actually her new walking boots were hurting her feet. Sigrid smiles and Ellie knows she can't fool Sigrid, so she decides to go to the church and rest her feet and pray. Then Ellie falls asleep for only a few minutes before she is ruefully woken up by a strange noise. Ellie looks all around the church when suddenly her eyes come to rest on a little bundle right in front of the altar steps, and a note with the infant says she is to be taken to a nunnery in Vienna. When Ellie and Sigrid find that the nunnery is in quarantine for typhus, they decide to take the baby home and raise her as their own. They name her Annika after Ellie's mother. When the professors decide not to give away her after the typhus quarantine is over, Annika grows up as a servant in the house where Ellie and Sigrid work. For Annika, life in Vienna is perfect. She has friends, Pauline and Stefan, and she loves her adopted family (Ellie and Sigrid, and the three professors who they all work for) very much.
Annika is asked by Loremarie Egghart, a snobby rich girl whom Annika despises, to read to her great-aunt. Annika does so and the two (Annika and Loremarie's great aunt, La Rondine) become friends, telling each other about their lives. Loremarie's great aunt was a famous theatre personality who went by the stage name La Rondine. They become so close that the great-aunt leaves Annika her jewels when she dies, unaware that they are real; she dies thinking that the jewels are pastings of the real ones which she thought she had sold.
Annika is happy but sometimes wonders about the missing piece of the puzzle: the mystery of her real mother and why she was abandoned. When a beautiful, rich lady comes to the professors household and announces she is Annika’s long lost mother, Annika is delighted. Her mother takes her to Spittal, the family's estate in Germany, and she meets her brother Hermann, her uncle Oswald, and her cousin Gudrun, but she doesn’t enjoy it. The mansion is derelict and gloomy, the walls are crumbling, and the paint peeling. She meets a friendly Romany/gypsy boy called Zed who works on the farm and cares for Hermann's horse Rocco.
Annika's mother asks her to sign some important documents without really explaining them, and then goes to Zurich. Annika has actually signed over La Rondine's jewels, including her famous Star of Kazan, but is unaware of what she has done. When her mother comes back, she says a relative died and left them lots of money, but in fact she sold all of Annika's jewels so Hermann can go to the army school that he wants to attend, and Annika can have galoshes, which her mother buys a size too small.
Annika is then sent away to a very harsh boarding school for young ladies called Grossenfluss, but the professors and Ellie and Stefan manage to rescue her after discovering that a pupil died there. (The pupil died by committing suicide but the police were not allowed to investigate and were told that it was an accident.) Annika finds a picture of La Rondine and her lover at the bottom of the trunk which had contained the jewels, revealing that the trunk has been opened. Her mother blames the theft on Zed. Zed flees to Vienna with Rocco, to tell the professors his suspicions about Annika's mother. Annika manages to escape back home to Vienna, to those she loves.
Some of the main characters are: Professor Emil, Professor Gertrude, Zed, Stefan, Pauline, Gudrun, Loremarie, Hermann, Rocco, Edeltraut von Tanenberg, and of course Annika.
Zed is a friendly gypsy boy who works for Edeltraut von Tannenberg. He is the son of a horse dealer and is descended from gypsies. His mother is dead and his father died trying to stop a fight when Zed was very little. Edeltraut von Tannenberg's father, and the master at the time, had ordered a horse from Zed's father before the father’s death so when the horse was delivered, Zed came with it. The master gave Zed a job and sent him to school. The horse, Rocco, was bought for the master's grandson, Hermann, but always preferred Zed, so the Master decided to get his grandson another horse and give Rocco to Zed but had a stroke before he could tell anyone.
Stefan Bodek is the son of a poor washerwoman. His father is a groundsman in the Prater. He is the third of six brothers and the strongest. He wants to be an engineer but fears that he can't afford to study.
Ellie has worked for the professors as their cook since she was 14 years old. She is a very good cook and so were her mother and grandmother, from whom she inherited a recipe book. Ellie often goes on walks in the countryside with Sigrid on their days off from work.
Sigrid works for the professors as a housemaid. She works well, but can be a little 'snappy' at times. Sigrid is very good friends with Ellie and is a hardworking role model for Annika.
Pauline is Annika and Stefan's friend who lives with her grandfather and helps him look after his bookshop. She is a thin girl with black eyes and frizzy black hair. She loves reading books and keeps a book with newspaper clippings about heroic people. She suffers from agoraphobia (the fear of new or public places).
The professors are all siblings and have lived in the same house all their lives. None of them are married and are unlikely to be any time soon.
Professor Gertrude is the youngest and the only female of the siblings. She plays the harp and always smells of lavender water. She suffers from cold feet and needs a hot water bottle to sleep. Also, she is sometimes very anxious, doesn't smile much, and always has bits of food on her skirt.
Professor Emil is the middle child. He has a "sensitive stomach" and cannot cope with spicy foods. He is an art expert and is able to tell who painted a picture by looking at the feet of its main subjects.
Professor Julius, who specializes in geology, is the eldest. He was once engaged but his bride died before they could be wed. He has a picture of her in his room and has Annika pick out and arrange flowers in front of the picture every morning.
Edeltraut von Tannenberg
Edeltraut von Tannenberg is Annika's 'mother'. Edeltraut has one sister, whose husband helps Edeltraut steal Annika's jewels. Edeltraut's husband gambles away all their money and flees to America, leaving Edeltraut to take care of their son, Hermann, and the family estate until Hermann comes of age.
Hermann is Edeltraut's son, and heir to the family estate. He dreams of being in the army and, even when the family can't afford to send him to St. Xaviers, still follows the timetable.
Loremarie is a snobby little girl whose father is very rich. She never really cared for her great aunt, known in the theater as La Rondine, because La Rondine was now old.
Hector is a water spaniel who was bought for Hermann by his grandfather. Zed told Annika that Hermann wanted to train Hector to be an army dog and to not be scared of guns of explosions, so Hermann tied firecrackers onto Hector's leg and tail. Hector was blinded in one eye and lost one of his legs and most of his tail because of this. Edeltraut wanted Hector put down but Zed saved him. Hector is described by Zed as being able to swim like a fish even with only three legs. Hector likes to collect items from the lake, including his favourite sock suspender.
Gudrun is a rather pathetic looking girl who is the daughter of Edeltraut von Tannenberg's sister and cousin to Hermann, whom she worships as a hero. She always wants whatever Hermann desires. Her most rebellious scene is when she ignores her mother and tells Ellie and the professors that Annika has been sent to Grossenfluss. Gudrun is not as evil as her mother.
Rocco is a gentle, bay-coloured horse belonging to Zed. Although the Master bought him originally for Hermann, he changed his mind and left Rocco to Zed after having a stroke.
La Rondine is the Eggharts' great-aunt. Annika used to read to her because Loremarie was disgusted by La Rondine. La Rondine told Annika about herself and how she used to be a great actor. She had two chests of jewels she thought to be fake. When she sold her jewels a jeweler with a crooked back loved her and gave her her money and her jewels back. She died without knowing that they were real so in her will she wrote them to Annika. This is the reason Frau Edeltraut pretends to be Annika's mother.