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The Astor Orphan: A Memoir Hardcover – April 16, 2013


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The Astor Orphan: A Memoir + Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune + Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062207938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062207937
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Aldrich bears witness to the tail-end of the disintegration of that most storied of American dynasties, the Astors. Growing up at Rokeby, the crumbling, 43-room family mansion on the Hudson River, she had ample opportunity to observe and participate in the eccentricities of her once mighty clan. Interweaving recollections from her dysfunctional childhood and tales of glories past, she accurately captures and communicates the madness and malaise that have infected many members of the last few generations of Astors, including her own father. Refusing to move on and clinging to a decaying ancestral estate that could very well save them all, they live a hand-to-mouth existence, buoyed only by their obsession with their heritage and a misplaced sense of entitlement. This unflinching memoir of childhood chaos and neglect is relieved and enlivened by Aldrich’s wittily sharp observations and her obvious affection for her peculiar relations. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

“A sparklingly mischievous debut. . . . Aldrich’s narrative tidily and fondly bears witness to the inexorable unraveling of a storied genealogy.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Novelistic. . . . Vividly gothic. . . . It’s a trick to tell a story this rich and complicated through the eyes of a child without losing the subtleties of character and nuances of history, but Aldrich pulls it off with aplomb.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“It’s the highest of compliments to say that a memoir reads like fiction, and Alexandra Aldrich accomplishes this in her phenomenal debut. With swift, haunting prose, she breathes new life into the Astor clan.” (Susannah Cahalan, bestselling author of Brain on Fire)

“A beautifully-rendered family saga—full of fires, affairs, aristocrats and illegitimate children. At the center is an endearing heroine, whose eccentric childhood on the Grey Gardens-style Rokeby estate would make Dickens gasp. . . . Splendid.” (Jennifer Vanderbes, author of Easter Island and Strangers at the Feast)

“Evocative. . . . Aldrich astutely portrays a colorful cast of aunts, uncles, cousins and hangers-on—clinging to the family legacy long after the money is gone. One can’t help but cheer as she breaks away from the others to make a name for herself.” (Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them)

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Customer Reviews

Did not like this book or find it interesting enough to even finish reading it.
Juanita Williams
The book did not flow but seemed to jump around with the author trying hard to be clever and poetic in her writing style.
Tara
It felt like she wanted to say more about what her life was really like but did not want to hurt anyone's feelings.
Mamasan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Loribee VINE VOICE on May 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I need to be more picky in picking memoirs to read these days it seems. There was a time when a memoir told a real story, and had real meaning. This book doesn't do that. In fact I'm once again wondering the purpose of the book. It IS easy to read, I read it quickly. Part of that is I think the authors gift of writing, another part was thinking maybe on the next page I would get the "why" of the book.

I'm still wondering why - the book tells the story of Alexandra Aldrich from (the best I can tell) the ages of around 10 to 14. She is part of a large, once wealthy family who no longer has money, but does have a mansion and a lot of land where she and assorted relatives and tenants live. She does tell some of the story of the history of the family and the property, but mostly she spends the book finding fault with everything and everyone in her life.

She states often that her part of the family lives in poverty, but she also mentions her mother chasing down her father for money, and it's not clear where he gets it - maybe from collecting rent from various tenants on the land? It's never made clear in the book exactly how any poverty affects her. She takes violin lessons paid for by her grandmother who also lives in an apartment on the property, and who does have money.

Anything the author needs she seems to receive, whether from her parents or from her grandmother, yet she seems to feel entitled to more, and wants to live anywhere but where she lives - in other words, like a typical teenager.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jubal Howe on April 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was intrigued, perhaps seduced, by the premise of Aldrich's memoir of growing up in the American aristocracy. Having read other memoirs like Augustin Burroughs' Running with Scissors, or masterful novels like Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, about dysfuntional blueblood families coping with declining fortunes, I thought Astor Orphan might be provocative, revealing, or at the very least, entertaining. Sadly, it is none of the above. Instead, it reads like the diary of an embittered and petulant spoiled child. In any such catalogue of grievances, one hopes that humor might serve as a redemptive path to wisdom. Instead we are treated to a catalogue of petty abuses, sawed out mercilessly and with no evidence of understanding or introspection. Depressing, muddled, and tedious.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By leslie beaird on May 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book was interesting, but I felt it was more like reading a long magazine article. I could never connect with the author or the people in the book. It was an interesting story, but I like more depth and connection with the characters.....if I feel I know them, I fall deeper into the story.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By E.B. Bristol VINE VOICE on March 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"In my mind, I, too, was a guard of order, perpetuating the family's image of class and refinement with my violin playing and outstanding academic record." So writes Astor descendant Alexandra Aldrich of her routine as a child, her attempt to impose some order on her chaotic family and a bulwark against the disdain directed at her by her relatives as a less-worthy member of her clan. Before leaving for boarding school at fourteen, Alexandra lived in the third floor quarters of Rokeby, the Astor mansion with her parents. Though she attended a (presumably) regular school, her homelife was less than "normal." The mansion and its grounds were in a state of perpetual decay, and her bohemian family was affected by poverty, alcoholism and internal strife. The only constant seemed to be that something horrifying would happen to upset whatever gathering or celebration was taking place. The reader may view his/her family as somewhat quirky, but the Astor clan takes dysfunction to new levels.

The book's cast includes Alexandra's father, the family scapegoat and caretaker of the estate; her mother, a Polish art-house movie buff who is not particularly interested in her daughter; her father's mistress Giselle (with a husband and kids of her own), her Grandmother Claire, an alcoholic who nevertheless offers Alexandra a semblance of a more "regular" kid's life; her Uncle Harry, who micromanages the estate's affairs; Aunt Olivia and her two cousins, Maggie and Diana. The estate is also home to a menagerie of farm animals, grounds-people and odd jobbers, plus tenants and oddball friends of Alexandra's dad. The "orphan" of the title refers to Alexandra, but also to her ancestors, "the original eccentrics of the family.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kate Stout VINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Reading The Astor Orphan reminds me that converting one's childhood into an interesting memoir involves more that a mere recitation of what happened. In The Glass Castle: A Memoir, the author shows a weird understanding, and even love of her genuinely crazy parents, and helps us to understand the fine border between spontaneity and irresponsibility. In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,the author explores the fine line between courage and ridiculous stubbornness, adding a fine descriptive narrative. But in The Astor Orphan, we come away with little insight into the author, or the motivations of her parents and family, nor with an interesting story.

The background to the book is this - Alexandra Aldrich is the descendant of many of the famous wealthy Hudson River families - the Livingstones, the Astors, the Aldrich's, the Delanos, and so on. She lives with her Harvard educated father and her Polish mother on an elegant old family estate in the Hudson River Valley. The family fortunes have declined, and there is little money to maintain the estate, so she and her parents live in poverty. However, this is somewhat self imposed, as her father interprets his duty to the estate as being a farmer and handy man, rather than working in a more lucrative job, as his brother does.

Other family members live on the estate - the aforementioned uncle and his wife and two child, and her grandmother, who has a drinking problem. There are also various friends of her father, who live in various outbuildings.
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