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White Oleander (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – May 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Mti edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316284955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316284950
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 1999: Astrid Magnussen, the teenage narrator of Janet Fitch's engrossing first novel, White Oleander, has a mother who is as sharp as a new knife. An uncompromising poet, Ingrid despises weakness and self-pity, telling her daughter that they are descendants of Vikings, savages who fought fiercely to survive. And when one of Ingrid's boyfriends abandons her, she illustrates her point, killing the man with the poison of oleander flowers. This leads to a life sentence in prison, leaving Astrid to teach herself the art of survival in a string of Los Angeles foster homes.

As Astrid bumps from trailer park to tract house to Hollywood bungalow, White Oleander uncoils her existential anxieties. "Who was I, really?" she asks. "I was the sole occupant of my mother's totalitarian state, my own personal history rewritten to fit the story she was telling that day. There were so many missing pieces." Fitch adroitly leads Astrid down a path of sorting out her past and identity. In the process, this girl develops a wire-tight inner strength, gains her mother's white-blonde beauty, and achieves some measure of control over their relationship. Even from prison, Ingrid tries to mold her daughter. Foiling her, Astrid learns about tenderness from one foster mother and how to stand up for herself from another. Like the weather in Los Angeles--the winds of the Santa Anas, the scorching heat--Astrid's teenage life is intense. Fitch's novel deftly displays that, and also makes Astrid's life meaningful. --Katherine Anderson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Thirteen-year-old Astrid Magnussen, the sensitive and heart-wrenching narrator of this impressive debut, is burdened with an impossible mother in Ingrid, a beautiful, gifted poet whose scattered life is governed by an enormous ego. When Ingrid goes to prison for murdering her ex-lover, Astrid enters the Los Angeles foster care program and is placed with a series of brilliantly characterized families. Astrid's first home is with Starr, a born-again former druggie, whose boyfriend, middle-aged Ray, encourages Astrid to paint (Astrid's absent father is an artist) and soon becomes her first lover, but who disappears when Starr's jealousy becomes violent. Astrid finds herself next at the mercy of a new, tyrannical foster mom, Marvel Turlock, who grows wrathful at the girl's envy of a sympathetic next-door prostitute's luxurious life. "Never hope to find people who will understand you," Ingrid archly advises as her daughter's Dickensian descent continues in the household of sadistic Amelia Ramos, where Astrid is reduced to pilfering food from garbage cans. Then she's off to the dream home of childless yuppies Claire and Ron Richards, who shower her with gifts, art lessons and the warmth she's been craving. But this new development piques Ingrid's jealousy, and Astrid, now 17 and a high school senior, falls into the clutches of the entrepreneurial Rena Grushenka. Amid Rena's flea-market wares, Astrid learns to fabricate junk art and blossoms as a sculptor. Meanwhile, Ingrid, poet-in-prison, becomes a feminist icon who now has a chance at freedomAif Astrid will agree to testify untruthfully at the trial. Astrid's difficult choice yields unexpected truths about her hidden past, and propels her already epic story forward, with genuinely surprising and wrenching twists. Fitch is a splendid stylist; her prose is graceful and witty; the dialogue, especially Astrid's distinctive utterances and loopy adages, has a seductive pull. This sensitive exploration of the mother-daughter terrain (sure to be compared to Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here) offers a convincing look at what Adrienne Rich has called "this womanly splitting of self," in a poignant, virtuosic, utterly captivating narrative. Reading group guide; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: An excerpt from the novel was selected as a notable story in Best American Short Stories 1994.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Janet Fitch was born and raised in Los Angeles, a third generation Angelino.
She attended Reed College in Portland Oregon, graduating with a degree in history, and attributes much of her storytelling ability to her training as an historian. Since then, she has worked as a proofreader, typesetter, graphic artist, newspaper editor, magazine editor, freelance journalist and teacher of creative writing--not to mention Manpower Temp and worst waitress in Los Angeles. If she spilled coffee on you, she apologizes.

Her second novel, Paint It Black, has just appeared in paperback and in Dutch, Italian, Swedish, German, Hebrew and Polish. Jennifer Jason Leigh performs the audiobook. Fitch's first novel, White Oleander was an Oprah Book Club selection, and was translated into 24 languages, including Mandarin, Turkish and Finnish. It served as the basis of a motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the audiobook is read by Oprah Winfrey. Her early young adult novel, Kicks, sometimes surfaces. The anthology Los Angeles Noir (Akashic Noir) and Black Clock 7 both carry recent short stories.

Fitch currently teaches fiction writing at the University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing program. She regularly participates in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers summer workshops, and will be teaching at the 2008 Virgina Colony for the Arts' summer program in France. She lives in Los Angeles, in the hills where Rena Grushenka's girls picked trash in White Oleander.

Customer Reviews

It's written beautifully, and the characters are amazing.
MadenG
As I read the book, which I had a hard time putting down, I began to feel like I knew Astrid or wanted to know her, help her, love her.
Allison
It goes too far with the main character, Astrid, thinking so much about what is going on around her.
"obxgrl"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 78 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
White Oleander simply touched me more than almost any novel I have ever read. Astrid was a realistic character. Anyone who thinks that this novel was extreme and melodramatic in its portrayal of foster care obviously knows nothing of foster care or displaced children from disfunctional homes. Having worked in inpatient psychiatric units with both children and adults in state custody, I am well aware of how realistic Janet Fitch's book was.The things that happened to Astrid happen to children every day in this country. In fact reality is a little worse. The novel also presented the fact that we all recieve blessings and curses from our parents. Ingrid was a sociopath who did whatever she felt like doing regardless of who got hurt. She ruthlessly dominated her child's life "I am your home" and seemed to feel justified in doing so. However she also was a brilliantly educated poet who passed on the gifts that helped Astrid to survive her years in foster care: strength, independence, and a love of learning, a sharp intellect. I saw Astrid as a survivor who was as together as anyone could be after 6 years in foster care. In life, and in White Oleander, there is no happily ever after, and there are always loose ends. Fitch made me laugh and cry with her liquid poetry. A testement to survival.
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97 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Hochman on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down! "White Oleander" was wonderful from the very first sentence to the very last and I have Oprah to thank for bringing author Janet Fitch to my attention. The story is narrated by Astrid - a teenage girl - who suffers through years of living in the foster care system while her mother Ingrid serves a life sentence for murdering her ex-lover. (I can just envision a younger Angelina Jolie-type playing the role of Astrid in the film version.) Each family that Astrid lives with has its own unique (yet sometimes cliched) cast of characters that are instrumental in shaping and transforming the young woman she becomes. This is a novel of self discovery the hard way. I personally cannot imagine the loneliness and terror that Astrid experienced while bouncing from home to home to home. Ingrid stays present in Astrid's unstable life through letters and occasional visits and their strained relationship is key to Astrid's development. The character are so real, the writing style is beautiful, the plot moves swiftly and the story weaves the reader through every human emotion possible. While I'm not a fan of the Oprah Winfrey show, I am a fan of her book club and this novel ranks up there as one of her best picks.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Tracey A. Nettell on September 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
While Oleander is a beautiful and lyrical piece of contemporary literature with a storyline and cast of characters like nothing I have ever read. It is the story of the incredibly complex relationship between a self-absorbed "free spirit" and the daughter who wants nothing more than to be loved unconditionally as a child should be. When Ingrid is jailed for murder, so starts the long and rocky journey of Astrid as she moves from foster home to foster home. Few people will go through in their entire lifetimes what this child experiences throughout her early teenage years. Her journey is difficult but the author keeps her readers engrossed until the very end. This is a wonderful book and I sincerely hope the upcoming movie does it true justice.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be amazing. Probably the best part of the book was Astrid's mother, Ingrid. Her character was developed so well, it made me wonder how Fitch could think up all of her narcissistic qualities. The absurd things Ingrid wrote in her letters to Astrid made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Although the book starts out a little slow, it quickly picks up with a captivating plot line and diverse characters.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By L. Hernandez on March 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
The raw brilliance of this novel is overpowering. From behind the rough exterior of the story's plot comes a true "coming of age" tale, told with the most beautiful and articulate language of words. I never believed that a book could truly take hold of your emotions and exhilerate your senses, but this story drew me into the folds of surprise, heartbreak, and amazing prose.
The story is told from Astrid Magnussen's point of view. She is a young girl (story goes from age 12-18), who lives with her mother, Ingrid, who is a smooth, freeminded poet. They live in an apartment in Hollywood, California. They go to museums, read books by Dmitry and Dostoyevsky, and do poetry readings. Ingrid uses her charm to lure in men and have carefree relationships, but she gets too serious in one of these relationships. After the man breaks it off with Ingrid, she kills him. She is then put into prison and sentenced for life.
So begins Astrid's life of foster care and life altering changes. Throughout the story, Astrid is at 6 different homes, including a children's center. Each home is filled with people and experiences that all take their toll on Astrid and her upbringing. These include: getting involved with a MUCH older man, gun shot wounds, starvation, and a death, to name a few. During her time at these homes, she corresponds with her mother with letters, in which Ingrid is still trying to shape her daughter...even through prison. Astrid soon realizes that her mother wants her to remain unhappy in these homes, so she will still be "needed" by her daughter, and so that she can still influence Astrid into becoming like her.
This is a book where you hope and plead for a good ending, but you're never sure if it will happen or not. This books is remarkable. You'll be mesmorized by Astrid Magnussen adventures (or perhaps this is the repeated story of many fostered children throughout the world).
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