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The Boston Girl: A Novel Hardcover – December 9, 2014
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, December 2014: There’s a lot that’s familiar about The Boston Girl. A tale of a plucky immigrant girl at the turn of the century, it addresses some of the same themes as other contemporary novels, including the author’s breakout The Red Tent: religion, feminism, the pull between tradition and the modern world. Here, our heroine is Addie Baum of Boston, now in her eighties telling the story of her life to her twentysomething granddaughter. And what a life it was: born in 1900, Addie survived the travails of aggressive greenhorn parents, world wars, abusive men and a flu epidemic to become a woman, finally, with a voice and a life of her own. What makes this story engaging is just that old-fashioned straightforwardness, as well as its perfect ear for the locutions of the time. Someone is “smiling to beat the band.” Addie “can really cut a rug.” You had to “kiss a lot of frogs before [you] found a prince.” No wonder this book rings so true: reading it feels like lazing away a winter afternoon with a beloved aging relative paging through a family scrapbook. – Sara Nelson
“Strong female ties form this story’s core. Through these relationships…Diamant brings to life a piece of feminism’s forgotten history [and reminds us] there will always be those who try to prescribe what you should be. Good friends are those who help you find out for yourself.” (Good Housekeeping)
“Diamant infuses [The Boston Girl] with humor and optimism, illuminating a wrenching period of American progress through the eyes of an irresistible heroine.” (People)
"A graphic, page-turning portrait of immigrant life in the early twentieth century...an inspirational read.” (Booklist)
“The story of every immigrant and the difficulties of adapting to and accepting an unfamiliar culture." (Huffington Post)
"Enjoyable fiction with a detailed historical backdrop." (Kirkus)
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And it is absolutely delightful!
I think this book hit me on two emotional levels. For one thing, Addie Baum reminds me of my grandmother. Sort of. On the surface, there probably isn't that much in common between Addie, a Jewish girl growing up in the North End of Boston, and my grandmother, a Norwegian girl growing up in small town North Dakota, other than they are about the same age. But, Addie reminded me of what I always pictured my grandmother to be as a young woman--spunky and ahead of her time.
The other tie for me was that this book takes place in Boston and I lived there for 3 years. While I don't miss the city, it is fun to read about place with which I'm familiar. Diamant vividly creates early 20th century Boston and it was great fun for me to take a trip back in time with her.
This book reads exactly like what it is: a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her life and what shaped her into the woman she became. There are several times in the book where Addie makes asides, telling her granddaughter not to tell her mother something or, well, hinting about things that happened in her life that probably wouldn't be proper to talk about (her granddaughter, as you discover at the end of the book, gave up the hinting and just lays at all out--I almost snorted tea through my nose when that little bit came up!).
This was one of those books that I just could not put down--I plowed through it in a little over a day, which is pretty fast for this mother of young kids. Yet, I still kept scratching my head about how this was so different from Diamant's The Red Tent. I guess it is the measure of a skilled author to be able to write in such different voices.
I highly recommend this book to, well, just about anyone. Just be warned...if you think you'll be reading something along the lines of The Red Tent, you'll need to adjust your expectations (trust me, it will be worth it!)
Diamant's special gift is her creating the world of her characters from history. The reader enters the world view that prevails the era of the story, and is then able to appreciate the struggle of our narrator, Addie, to enact a stage of her own. Addie is forced to find her voice and to create it from whole cloth. She does it in simple language that lures the reader into the discourse. At some point, the complexity of her issues become apparent, and the novel takes on that extra dimension of richness that distinguishes a good book from other releases. Addie is a memorable character, specific to her time, who proves the fact that the soul has truths to share across the years.
And Anita Diamant obviously got tired of her story as she ends it in the 1930's, with a quick wrap up to the present day of 1985. What about everything that came later? It's a cop out to start in 1985 and take the story only as far as the '30's. If you don't want to write past that date, if you want your history to centre only on the first 30 years of the 20th century, then the format should have been different. It should have been written as a first person story, not a monologue story told to someone else, or it should have been written as third person, which would have been my preference to lend some more drama.
But my biggest criticism is of the monologue itself. It is mostly told without emotion, the way one would relate a story to someone else, yes, but not a format for a satisfying read from a novel. Three stars because Diamant writes well and the story flows and is very readable. It's a quick read, informative and fairly pleasant, so if you are interested in the topic and want a light read, then I recommend it. But don't expect much more.