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The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A Novel Hardcover – 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Inspired by a vintage circus photograph, Bryson's first novel tells the fictional story of the unusual relationship between two human curiosities from P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Bartholomew Fortuno, the world's thinnest man, is asked by Barnum to keep an eye on his latest acquisition—Iell Adams, the bearded woman, who is kept in seclusion until the impresario can introduce her to the world. Fascinated by her and desiring a transformative experience, Bartholomew falls hopelessly in love with Iell, much to the surprise of his fellow Curiosities. Bartholomew also gets caught in the middle of a war between Barnum and his jealous wife for control of Iell's future. The story culminates at Barnum's birthday party, where Bartholomew is shocked to discover Iell's big secret. Though thin on plot, this work sympathetically conjures up the backstage world of Barnum's museum and the pecking order of his Curiosities, and magically transports the reader back in time to Gilded Age New York. Fans of Water for Elephants are sure to want to enter this wondrous midway attraction of a novel. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“It must have been something, America at the end of the Civil War, and debut novelist Bryson imagines it beautifully in her inspired drama about freaks, showmen and the forces that twist our insides. Opening just after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the curtains part to reveal a sideshow within a spectacle, namely the singular attraction that was Barnum's American Museum in New York City, owned by narcissistic showman P.T. Barnum. . . . Bartholomew is a wonderful character who doesn't struggle against his self-image but revels in it, challenging audiences with his bravado. . . . A rich tapestry of romance, illusory science, criminal trickery and human intrigue. Let the show begin.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“This work sympathetically conjures up the backstage world of Barnum's museum and the pecking order of his Curiosities, and magically transports the reader back in time to Gilded Age New York. Fans of Water for Elephants are sure to want to enter this wondrous midway attraction of a novel.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Debut novelist Bryson has concocted fascinating historical fiction about one of showman P.T. Barnum's 'curiosities' who worked in the confines of Barnum's famous American Museum in lower Manhattan in the mid-19th century.... Bryson is a natural storyteller, and the fascinating interpersonal dynamics of her enticing characters keep readers' interest.... A strong first novel--recommended.” ―Library Journal
“Bryson, a proverbial ringmaster, delves deep into context, roping the assassination of Lincoln, scents of Chinatown, and heart-wrenching human misconceptions into poetic prose that captures the attention of ladies and gentleman, boys and girls of all ages.” ―Daily Candy
“Rich with magic.... Uncovering Iell's secrets leads Fortuno to expose his own, and this subtle but profound transformation casts a spell over the narrative until the last pages. Novel and character are awakened by the magnetic Iell, who makes Fortuno feel 'empty and full at the same time. Hungry and satiated.' By the end of the novel, readers should feel that way, too.” ―Christine Thomas, Miami Herald
“Riotous and touching.... It's one delicious story.” ―Ann La Farge, The Hudson Valley News
“Ellen Bryson has found a doozy of a story to tell, and she tells the hell out of it. Earnest, accurate, entertaining--this book lets us peek into the life of a great circus, and the great circus of life itself.” ―Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You and Chang and Eng
“Ellen Bryson's The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is an atmospheric and enthralling story of one of the great, lost legends of New York.” ―Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row and Dreamland
“The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno brings alive the curious world of P. T. Barnum's American Museum in 19th century New York, transforming in the process the freaks and prodigies into heart-breaking people. Bryson is bedazzling, a real writer of extraordinary bravado.” ―Keith Donohue, author of Angels of Destruction and The Stolen Child
“Ellen Bryson is a truly gifted storyteller whose debut novel transports the reader through time and into history itself, into characters with strange bodies but all-too-human hearts. I was hooked by every act, all the way to the novel's big reveal. Like Barnum's museum, this book deserves a plethora of visitors looking for educational entertainment.” ―Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
“I cannot remember another first novel as deftly written, as emotionally charged, as transporting as this one. Ellen Bryson's breathtaking debut makes us all believe anew in the power of love.” ―Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Told from the point of view of Bartholomew Fortuno, the thinnest man in the world (6'8" tall and weighs 78 pounds), and his dearest friend, Matina, the fattest woman in the world, they even flirt with a relationship more intimate than best friends. Against that backdrop of theater, exhibits, persons viewed as tableau, dramatic readings, with and without music, and a host of animals, real and imagined, we also become acquainted with the eccentric ringmaster, P. T. Barnum and his even stronger wife.
One cannot help admiring the restraint of author Bryson who deftly handles descriptions of freakish individuals and events without once stepping over that mystical line that would have made the individuals and events comical. A major example of that might have been Bartholomew's falling love with a beautiful new member of the cast, Iell.
The following passage from the book illustrates the author's portrait of Bartholomew's attraction for this beautiful if unusual lady:
"It was kind of you to make this trip for me," Iell said as she led me across the blood red rug in the parlor. Silently I squeezed between the divans and the tea table in front of it. Iell cut a dramatic figure as she stood against the brocade drapery, her beard curled lightly at the ends, her dress some kind of oriental sarong. No hoopskirts for her, at least not in private. ... What was it about the woman that intrigued me so? It wasn't just the beard, it was so much else. She made me feel as if I were empty and full at the same time."
In another passage, author Bryson handles a sexual scene between the fattest woman and the thinnest man in the world with the same skill, never once yielding to caricature of the bearded beauty or the thinnest man's total enchantment with her.
Ellen Bryson is skilled, too, in creating scenes and using sometimes poetic language that cause us to stop and think, what a lovely way to say that, e.g., "When the sun finally broke the horizon, its radiance poured over the rooftops and then flowed down the museum like a river of gold." Nearly a flawless book for its handling of a difficult and unique group of characters, "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" is sometimes flawed by the use of contemporary colloquial expressions that break the imaginative trance, e.g. the use of the word "stonewalled" to describe resistance. Those occasions broke the spell and pulled me out of the historical moment.
Still, this is a book you won't want to miss, an author you'll want to follow.
I appreciated the verisimilitude. Set just after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln the novel offers a unique insight into the transformation of the country as well as its residents.
Enjoyed having PT Barnum as a character who was probably the ultimate character in real life.
Highly recommend this work. Look forward to Ellen Bryson's next endeavor.
The characters in this book were beautifully developed and I was drawn into each scene as I found myself stealing away to read chapter after chapter until I realized that any interruption of my reading was a bother. I especially enjoyed the scenes that took place in Bartholomew's room and on the streets of Manhattan.
For ten years Bartholomew was satisfied to be admired for the "gift" that he was given...and then the transformation began. And I loved the way that he blossomed.
There were parts of the story that disturbed me in a wonderful way and I could not lay my finger on why. And at the same time I could not put the book down...I hungered for more. The story line struck an untouched chord of longing somewhere deep inside my soul. Regardless of the gender of the character I realized that I was relating on some level with each one of them.
What more could anyone ask of a novel? This new author has a wonderful way of telling a story. Ellen Bryson...please give us MORE!
Most recent customer reviews
So, I'll start it out like this--
When I began reading this, I was grinning from ear to ear.Read more