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

3.5 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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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


“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062207938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062207937
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this memoir thinking I would learn something about the descendants of John Jacob Astor and I did but not in the way I expected. This is the poor, bohemian offspring of the Astor orphans, William Backhouse Astor, Sr.'s eleven grandchildren who were orphaned when their parents died of pneumonia within a short time of each other. They were raised by family in the enormous mansion called Rokeby in the Catskills. The author's great grandmother bought out her siblings to be sole owner of Rokeby, but after she died in 1963 the place began to deteriorate. Eventually the estate of some 400+ acres was co-owned by brothers Harry and Ted Aldrich. Ted's only child Alexandra is the author of this memoir.

Since Harry had a job as a civil servant in Albany, Ted ran the estate and rented out cottages and other outbuildings. He also supposedly kept the place in good repair. Actually he rented to various oddball friends and artists who drove staid Harry and his wife up the wall. They lived in the main part of the mansion while Ted and his wife and daughter were relegated to the servants quarters and attics of the house. Alexandra's father, classically educated but a born mechanic and farmhand, didn't like to bathe, her mother didn't know how to keep house and, what's more, didn't care to learn, and they usually had to borrow money to buy groceries. Alexandra was largely unsupervised, a free spirit at home in the woods and with the artists who lived in the creamery.

Alexandra was also a good student devoted to playing the violin. She had two younger cousins to play with; they staged plays in the best rooms wearing gowns found in trunks. Youngest Maggie would lie on a couch dramatically announcing that she was dying of "ammonia.
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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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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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