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The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel Hardcover – February 18, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* After her imaginative foray into ancient Judaic history in The Dovekeepers (2011), Hoffman breathes fiery life into an enrapturing fairy tale and historical fiction mash-up. Professor Sardie, a fanatic with a secret past and a Dr. Frankenstein aura, runs the Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island in 1911, showcasing “living wonders,” including his motherless daughter, web-fingered Coralie, who performs in a tank as the Mermaid. Ezekiel Cohen, a motherless Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Russia, abandons his tailor father and his faith, calls himself Eddie, and devotes himself to photography. As Coralie’s father puts her at grave risk to perpetuate what he hopes will be a profitable hoax, Eddie documents the shocking and tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and tries to solve the mystery of a young woman’s disappearance. Both Coralie and Eddie end up experiencing unnerving epiphanies in the glorious and imperiled wilderness on the northern coast of Manhattan. With a Jewish mystic and a distinguished Wolfman, ravishing evocations of the rapidly transforming city and the tawdry yet profoundly human magnetism of Coney Island, dramatic perspectives on criminal greed and the coalescence of the labor movement, and keen appreciation for the new clarity photography fostered, Hoffman unveils both horror and magic in this transfixing tale of liberation and love in a metropolis of lies, yearning, and metamorphosis. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Extensive promotion and an author tour will amplify the appeal of one of best-selling Hoffman’s most incandescent novels. --Donna Seaman


“Hoffman’s book earns its legitimacy through an eye-opening plethora of period detailing, coupled with the author’s overarching outrage at urban workplace abuses….You can’t help but admire the author’s fervor for telling stories and the democratic manner in which she disseminates the love of reading.” (Jan Stuart The Boston Globe)

“A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…Once Coralie and Eddie discover each other, their profound, mystical attraction and mutual obsession become forces of their own, driving the story forward.” (Katharine Weber The New York Times Book Review)

“Spellbinding… Hoffman’s penchant for the magical is on full display in this world filled with rogues, strivers, corrupt politicians, Gilded Age riches and debilitating poverty. The chaos and grandeur of New York City at the time make it a character in its own right, as monstorous and intoxicating as the circus sideshow that traps Coralie and makes her a star.” (Andrea Walker People)

“Alice Hoffman employs her trademark alchemy of finding the magical amid the ordinary in her mesmerizing new novel.…If you're looking for an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place, step right up to The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” (USA Today)

“The year 1911 had an apocalyptic feel in New York City as fire devastated the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village and destroyed the amusement park Dreamland that rose above Coney Island. Manhattan wasn’t yet entirely tamed by concrete and people still believed in the fantastical. Alice Hoffman, whose brand of magic realism really should have a patent pending, makes lovely work of the era in her new city-centric novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” (Sherryl Connelly New York Daily News)

“Hoffman masterfully creates two characters of depth and emotion in Eddie and Coralie….[She] does not disappoint .” (Amanda St. Amand The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“The Museum of Extraordinary Things, like Ragtime, is packed with history and mystery, an introspective and full-bodied fairy tale for adult readers.” (Julie Bookman Atlanta Journal Constitution)

“Alice Hoffman's storytelling magic is on abundant display in her new novel….Hoffman expertly weaves the future lovers' monologues with a third-person account moving through the spring of 1911 to create a wonderfully rich narrative tapestry. Her prose is as lyrically beautiful as ever, evoking the teeming complexity of New York ….The action-packed story line sweeps through labor strife, a missing Triangle worker eventually fished from the Hudson, the exposure of her murderer and a bravura plot twist that reveals the truth about Coralie's mother.” (Newsday)

“Fans of Hoffman will not be disappointed. Lush imagery, extensive use of period details, well-drawn, and vivid prose make this a sumptuous read…a rich reading experience.” (The Seattle Times)

"Part Ray Bradbury and part Steven Millhauser...the delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary is balanced more in favor of the world we know, though not many writers describe that world as elegantly as Hoffman does....First-rate...Vividly drawn...Hoffman gives us extraordinary things and extraordinary times. And more." (Ed Siegel The Artery, WBUR)

“[Hoffman is] a master of craft and a lover of language. Each sentence shows precision and deliberation….The Museum of Extraordinary Things lives up to the ‘extraordinary’ of its title, a work of passion that celebrates a place and an era even while it explores a particularly dark moment in New York’s history.” (Zach Powers The Savannah Morning News)

“Classic Hoffman: a bewitching world of time and place (in this case, Coney Island and its boardwalk freak show in the early 1900s) suffused with magical moments, a mysterious disappearance and romance.” (Darcy Jacobs Family Circle)

“A mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls during the volatile first decades of the 20th century.” (Publisher's Weekly)

“Hoffman breathes fiery life into an enrapturing fairy tale and historical fiction mash-up….Ravishing…Dramatic…Hoffman unveils both horror and magic in this transfixing tale of liberation and love in a metropolis of lies, yearning, and metamorphosis.” (Booklist (starred review))

“The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.” (Ann McDonald Red Carpet Crash)

“In The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman mounts an arresting display: a New York City tale rich with literary inspiration, history, and urban legend. Readers often talk about being immersed in novels; this is a satisfying swim in tidal waters. Take the plunge.” (Gregory Maquire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz)

“Alice Hoffman understands and delivers the ordinary and the extraordinary in this contemporary novel of the past. As always, her powerful, elegant prose embraces tremendous passion with constant, clear-eyed compassion.” (Amy Bloom, author of Away)

"Beautiful, harrowing, a major contribution to twenty-first century literature." (Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature, on The Dovekeepers)

"As always, Alice Hoffman amazes me with her ability to use words the way other master artists use watercolors, painting the dreamlike world of a girl who grows up in a hall of wonders only to learn that something as ordinary as love is the greatest marvel of all. Many novels these days are called 'stunning' but this one truly IS: part love story, part mystery, part history, and all beauty." (Jodi Picoult, author of The Storyteller and Lone Wolf)

Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451693567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451693560
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (794 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman's first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff's magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte's masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Her advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman (Women's Cancer) Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. In January 2007, Skylight Confessions, a novel about one family's secret history, was released on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Her first novel. Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009), published by Shaye Areheart Books.

Hoffman's work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay "Independence Day" a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Sarah-Hope on February 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Turn of the 20th Century Coney Island. A young woman trained to impersonate a mermaid. A Jewish photographer, refugee from Ukrainian pograms, fleeing his own cultural heritage. A former mob boss turned horse-whisperer. A highly cultivated wolf-man, whose life has been transformed by Jane Eyre. A hermit with a pet wolf. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire. A mysterious disappearance. What more do I have to tell you to get you to reach for this book?

Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is an extraordinary thing itself. Yes, it has all of the above elements, any one of which would make me pick it up in a bookstore and think about making a purchase. What it also has is a rich storyline, with engaging, complicated characters, and a trio of narrative voices that leave one hungry for more.

The first two characters I mentioned, the mermaid and the photographer, provide two of the narrative voices. The third is a traditional omniscient narrator. Each chapter opens in one of the two character voices, then transitions to the omniscient narrator. In odd-numbered chapters we get the mermaid. In even-numbered chapters we get the photographer. And each of the three voices sings, distinct and true, creating a story that lets us move in and out of the hearts of its characters, seeing events from multiple perspectives.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things balances dark and light. It’s full of menace, but never becomes hopeless. This is one of those novels that’s worth purchasing while it’s still only available in hardback.
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117 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Robert Steven Thomas TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a very interesting book and semi-historical account, where the author has used a liberal amount of creative license and a great deal of personal research to create an intriguing story which will captivate most readers. Set at the beginning of the 1900’s on Long Island, NY, Coralie is the daughter of a sinister father who owns and runs a “Freak Show” on the Coney Island Board Walk. Coaralie, performing as a mermaid, is one of the acts in her father’s show. Along comes Eddie, a Jewish-Russian immigrant, who is a light-hearted artistic soul struggling as an apprentice to his father who is a demanding tailor. The unusual characters, original plot and subplots are beautifully interwoven to form, perhaps, one of the best new novels of 2014. Destined to become a NYT bestseller this year.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By L. Erickson on March 28, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have really liked the other novels of Alice Hoffman's that I have read, but unfortunately didn't enjoy this one. It progressed too slowly, and the level of descriptive detail in the story began to feel indulgent or self-conscious in some way, rather than poetic or lyrical. To be sure, Ms. Hoffman brings 1911 New York alive, and I liked that she grounded the story in two real historical events - a shirtwaist factory fire that fueled the workers' rights movement, and a huge Coney Island fire. Her characters are also very well-wrought, from the Coney Island show 'freaks' that we get to know as real men and women, to a Jewish mystic from the lower East side Orthodox community, to the hermits in upper Manhattan, still living in the forest, before the city has fully taken over. But the compelling historical setting and characters didn't make up for the slow pace for me.

The story moves back and forth between the lives of 2 characters - a young woman with webbed hands who is featured as a fish-girl in the Coney Island museum her father runs, and a young man who has abandoned his Jewish Orthodox upbringing, now working as a crime photographer on the fringes of society. Each of their stories is told in part in first person as if they are reminiscing about their past, and in part through a third person narrator. We know early on that these two are destined to be together, but they do not actually meet until the 60% into the book (I checked.) That was much too long of a lead-in for me, and I had almost abandoned the book before this. To be sure, it picked up in the last 40%, and the last few chapters made it almost worth it. But even in those, the writing and level of detail began to feel like an obstacle. So unfortunately for me this was just so-so overall, with both good points and bad points.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Amanda on February 25, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I’m a big fan of magical realism in my reading and this is what Alice Hoffman does best. This book was a wonderful mix of magic vs. science, of history and tragedy, and of love and romance. Coralie is raised in the Museum of Extraordinary Things on New York’s Coney Island and loves the wonders she sees– the birds, the Butterfly Girl who has no arms and even the Wolfman– even if she is not allowed to interact with them according to her father’s rules. As a child she doesn’t realize that what she calls wonders, others would call a freak show. This is a gift of Alice Hoffman’s, putting beauty in everything and in nearly every situation. Coralie feels lucky to join the Museum as a mermaid when she comes of age–until she realizes her father is not the man of science that he claims to be, but that she’s the daughter of a monster.

Each chapter starts with flashes back to childhood and then moves forward to the events of 1911. So when we meet Eddie Cohen, the photographer that captures Coralie’s heart, we already know that he was raised Ezekiel, an Orthodox Jew who escaped from Ukraine with his father. Eddie has tried to walk away from his past and his faith, but we see how those shape the man he is and the choices he makes once he witnesses the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and begins searching for the missing Hannah. We also see Coralie progress from obedient child to a thoughtful and observant young woman; and we see her transform in her own mind from a freak of nature to a young woman able to give and receive love freely.

I really enjoyed following this story and I was so anxious after Coralie first spotted Eddie waiting for them to really meet. But this was much more than just a romantic love story, this touched on parental love, friendship and questions of faith.
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