Boston Girl

By Anita Diamant

Scribner, $26, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

You probably know Anita Diamant as the author of the wildly popular biblical history novel, The Red Tent.  It was her debut novel, based on the little-known life of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, who gets a few lines in the Book of Genesis. Excellent word of mouth and recommendations from book clubs and independent bookstores made it a best-seller, and it has been published in more than 25 countries and became a Lifetime TV miniseries. Diamant, who began her writing career as a Boston journalist, also is the author of Good Harbor, The Last Days of Dogtown and Day After Night, and an essay collection, Pitching My Tent, as well as six guides to contemporary Jewish life and customs. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Newark and Denver, she is now a Boston girl herself. Boston Girl is a New York Times best-seller.

What is this book about?

At 85, Addie Baum sits down to tell her granddaughter was life was like – and more pertinently, what her own life was like, as the 20th century was born. Addie’s immigrant parents were struggling to make a living in Boston when she was born in 1900, the third daughter in the Baum family. Her parents are flummoxed by American freedoms and customs so different from their own, but Addie, smart and spirited, embraces the new ways and the increasing opportunities for women eagerly. What she discovers –  short skirts, movies, the possibility of  college and a career, love lost and gained – makes for a great tale that encapsulates how women and America changed and how each changed the other.

Why you’ll like it:

As the success of The Red Tent shows, Diamant has an intuitive sense of what readers, particularly women, like in a novel.  Her new book doesn’t have the Bible as its inspiration, but it recounts the recent past – one that some readers will recall first-hand – and shows how far we have come, in a relatively short time, and also how far we still need to go.

Here is something Diamant has said about her debut success: “In my first novel, The Red Tent, I re-imagined the culture of biblical women as close, sustaining, and strong, but I am not the least bit nostalgic for that world without antibiotics, or birth control, or the printed page. Women were restricted and vulnerable in body, mind, and spirit, a condition that persists wherever women are not permitted to read.

What others are saying:

The Review says: “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. “

Says Publishers Weekly: “Bestseller Diamant  tells a gripping story of a young Jewish woman growing up in early-20th-century Boston. Addie Baum, an octogenarian grandmother in 1985, relates long-ago history to a beloved granddaughter, answering the question: “How did I get to be the woman I am today?” The answer: by living a fascinating life. First reminiscing about 1915 and the reading club she became a part of as a teenager, Addie, in a conversational tone, recounts the lifelong friendships that began at club meetings and days by the seaside at nearby Rockport. She tells movingly of the fatal effects of the flu, a relative’s suicide, the touchy subject of abortion and its aftermath, and even her own disastrous first date, which nearly ended in rape. Ahead of her time, Addie also becomes a career woman, working as a newspaper typist who stands up for her beliefs at all costs. This is a stunning look into the past with a plucky heroine readers will cheer for.”

Library Journal says: “Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum reminisces about her life in Diamant’s step back in time. Addie’s been asked by her 22-year-old granddaughter, Ava, to explain how she became the woman she is. Born to Jewish immigrant parents in 1900 in Boston’s heavily populated North End, Addie and her two older sisters lived in a tenement with their unhappy parents who did not acclimate to this new world. But Addie’s caring and loyal sisters are there for her. In 1915 she is a young teen, interested in her activities at a library group held at a neighborhood settlement house. Recalling situations with her compassionate eye and remarkable sense of humor, Addie observes upheavals large and small: changing women’s roles, movies, celebrity culture, short skirts, and the horrible flu pandemic of 1918. She explores feminism, family, and love as well. VERDICT Diamant offers impeccable descriptions of Boston life during these early years of the 20th century and creates a loving, caring lead character who grows in front of our eyes from a naïve young girl to a warm, wise elder. Readers interested in historical fiction will certainly enjoy this look at the era, with all its complications and wonders.

Kirkus Reviews says:  “A Jewish woman born in 1900 tells her granddaughter about growing up in the 20th century. Diamant establishes an agreeable, conversational tone in the opening paragraph: “I’m flattered you want to interview me,” Addie says. “And when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild?” It’s 1985, and we quickly learn that Addie is the daughter of Russian immigrants, the only one born in the New World but not the only one to disappoint her bitter, carping mother by turning out to be “a real American.” Older sister Betty horrifies their parents in 1910 by moving out to become a saleswoman at Filene’s, and Addie flouts their limited expectations by attending high school and joining a reading club at the local settlement house. It’s there she learns about Rockport Lodge and snatches a vacation at this “inn for young ladies in a seaside town north of Boston” with the help of the settlement house’s nurturing Miss Chevalier. On her first trip to the lodge in 1916, Addie forms lifetime friendships with other striving working-class girls, particularly Filomena, whose affair with a married artist demonstrates the promises and perils of the new freedoms women are claiming. Addie’s narrative rambles through the decades, spotlighting somewhat generic events: the deaths of two nephews in the 1918 flu epidemic, an unfulfilling romance with a traumatized World War I veteran, an encounter with a violent rumrunner. Her increasing aspirations take her from a secretarial job to a newspaper, where she climbs from typist to columnist with the help of other uppity women. True love arrives with labor lawyer Aaron Metsky, and a quick wrap-up of the years after 1931 tells us Addie found her vocation as a social worker and teacher. Enjoyable fiction with a detailed historical backdrop, this sweet tale is paradigmatic book club fare, but we expect something more substantial from the author of The Red Tent (1997) and The Last Days of Dogtown (2005).”

When is it available?

You can find Boston Girl in Hartford, at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.

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