The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg
Let's let Mrs. Olinski introduce Nadia:
Had she been born five hundred years sooner, Raphael would have chosen her as a model for his cherubs. Tendrils of bright red hair framed her face, a spray of freckles powdered her nose, and she was as plump as a perfectly ripened peach. Raphael probably would have painted out the freckles, and that would have been a mistake. Like brushing the cinnamon off cinnamon toast. (2.13)
Pop quiz: Who else does Mrs. Olinski describe in such detail?
Answer: no one.
Ethan does spend a little time describing how Julian looks ("His skin was the color of strong coffee with skim milk—not cream—added […] His lips were the color of a day-old bruise" ("Ethan".20), but other than that we don't get such detail about anyone else's appearance. So, why do we learn so much about Nadia?
Looks Aren't Everything
Well, she's a girl, and people still just tend to care a lot more about how girls look. But what is kind of interesting is that her looks don't seem to match up with what she's like on the inside. She may be pretty, but she's not—or doesn't appear to be—popular. After her dad moves to a different apartment complex, she loses all her friends. "I preferred," she says, "Ginger" ("Nadia".16).
Check out the way Nadia talks about her friends: "I concluded that many friendships are born and maintained for purely geographical reasons" ("Nadia".16). Like all The Souls, except maybe Ethan, Nadia has a distinctive way of talking. Noah uses "fact"; Ethan uses "indeed"; and Nadia has a very dry but almost funny way of talking. For example:
- Describing her background: "She is a mixed breed. Like me" ("Nadia".55).
- Reflecting on her summer: "I did not know then that when I started sixth grade, I would be living in the state of divorce and New York" ("Nadia".36).
- Relating Margaret's joke about bathing suits: "I do not know who, besides Margaret herself, any bathing suit of hers would fit" ("Nadia".44).
It's not totally clear how to interpret this kind of talking, but to us it seems like Nadia is trying really, really hard to understand the world. We never really see her laughing. She takes everything seriously, but it's like she has to. Her entire world has just been turned upside down and ripped apart. No wonder that "not knowing" is her biggest fear.
As she says to her father, "'Why does everyone think they know what is important to me? This was important. This is important. Do you think it is right that you should know and Ethan should know, and I should not?'" ("Nadia".161). The phrase "I did not know" occurs seven times in her story—almost twice as often as it appears anywhere else in the book.
But "Looking" Might Be
And look at how she describes people. Sure, Mrs. Olinski spends a lot of time talking about how Nadia looks, but no more than Nadia spends talking about how other people look. In fact, the very first thing Nadia says is that her "grandfather is a slim person of average height with heavy, heathery-gray eyebrows" ("Nadia".1).
Almost everyone gets this Nadia treatment, including her new step-grandmother who has "what the catalogs call a 'mature figure,' and [is] not at all self-conscious about it or the starbursts of tiny blue veins on both her inner and outer thighs ("Nadia".44). Nadia really sees things, more than anyone else in the novel.
But Nadia doesn't seem to know herself too well, at least not at first. It takes Mrs. Olinski to tell us that "Nadia Diamondstein [is] not only incandescently beautiful but [is] also a star" (2.17). What kind of star? She's a star of the Academic Bowl, but certainly not the only star. She's not special on the team; she's just one of four very strong parts.
And she's not a star of Annie, either, even though her "tendrils of bright red hair" make her a shoe-in for the part. Instead, the star is her dog, Ginger. (Ginger, BTW, is a common nickname for people with red hair. Do you get it??)
Just like Nadia turns a laser-like focus on other people to help her feel like she's in control of her world, she assigns her dog all the attributes that she wants—and that she ends up gaining. Think about the way she constantly points out that Ginger is genius and how she insists that Ginger will be able to fly home without needing tranquilization: "She will make the trip just fine. Ginger is a genius" ("Nadia".53).
By the end of the novel, it sounds like someone else is going to make the trip home just fine, too.Timeline