Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri doesn’t really require much of a review since I have nothing but praise for this author, and especially this collection of short stories. I have been a huge fan of this author ever since I read The Namesake. Her prose is beautiful, insightful and delves into uncomfortable topics, all the while addressing the cultural shifts between traditional and westernized Indian traditions. The young v. the old, parents v, kids, old ideas v. new ideas. Although I am Armenian, there is much in the strife of the youth that I can connect with, having grown up in the US, but being raised with traditional Armenian values. Sadly, Lahiri hasn’t written anything new for quite a while, and I’ve read her other two titles, The Namesake & Interpreter of Maladies.
Melanie Benjamin is another author who requires only a short review. This is her third book, following her trend of historical fiction based on actual historical figures. The Aviator’s Wife takes a look at Anne Lindbergh, one half of the famous Lindbergh pair of the early 20th Century. Although I didn’t like this book as much as The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, The Aviator’s Wife was still a gripping tale of one woman’s struggle to define herself, while stuck in the shadows of greatness that defined her husband and her family. I found Anne to be a genuine person, with flaws and ambition like the rest of us. At times I was frustrated with her for not standing up to her bully of a husband more, but then I realized that she wasn’t raised in a culture that embraced woman’s rights. Her struggles and achievements are an inspiration. The book is well paced, and although Benjamin does focus on the “Trial of the Century” of the kidnapping and murder of her first born, it is not the marrow of the novel. Rather, its a short snippet of the long life lived by the pair.
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
Publication date: July 27th, 2011
Publisher Delacorte Press, 2011
Back cover synopsis:
A two-foot, eight-inch tall dynamo, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump lived a remarkable life that reaches out t us more than a century later. Taken under the wing of the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married to the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, she charmed riverboat gamblers and bewitched the rich and powerful.
Although I hate using the back cover synopsis for my reviews, I felt I had to in this case. There is so much going on in this book, that its hard to think of a way to sum it all up. To say its about Mercy Lavinia’s life (Vinnie was her preferred nickname), is an understatement. It takes us back to a time forgotten in American history. Vinnie’s life story guides us before, during and after the civil war. I thought the author did an effortless job weaving in moments of history throughout the course of the novel. Vinnie interacts with different dignitaries and notable names throughout the course of her career and life with P.T. Barnum’s traveling show.
I did sob at certain points in the book, and I did feel terrible that Vinnie could never let her guard down, even with her husband. Keeping people at arm’s length was her biggest source of protection. At times it made her a very harsh and cold person. It was hard to see her vulnerabilities because she would never let herself think of them. She was incredibly strong-willed and was not afraid to speak her mind.
Its taken me a month to review this book because the final image of General Tom Thumb, Vinnie’s sister Minnie, and the entire life that she lived left me feeling very…melancholic. Winnie deserved a life filled with love, but she always kept her guard up and strong.
This is a wonderful book of American history, of the unknown and forgotten celebrities of an era only remembered by injustice, violence and war. This book is a reminder of why America is so unique, and that even if you are less than 3-feet tall, its still possible to have dreams big enough to take you across the ocean onto a world tour.
Book 33 of 2011
Find this book at your local library