Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

The Transformation of Batholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

For review from Henry Holt)


Water for Elephants meets Geek Love in this riveting first novel, an enchanting love story set in P. T. Barnum's American Museum in 1865 New York City

Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P. T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays, breathtaking theatrical performances, and live shows by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of constant work, he finds his sense of self, and his contentment within the walls of the museum, flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer—Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside down. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts of those around her?

Set in the New York of 1865, a time when carriages rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos near the docks thrived, and the country was mourning the death of President Lincoln, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novel about human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique—and how the power of love can transcend even the greatest divisions.


This is a very unique love story between what some might consider two "odd" people. Bartholomew Fortuno is the thinnest man in the world and he uses his oddity as a career. During this time the epitome of "circus" or "freak shows" as they were called at the time, was P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Barnum had scoured the world to find the most curious and strange people he could find and put them together. It's not surprising that love would bloom between some of them. Their own uniqueness set them apart from others but brought them closer together.

This book really celebrates what it means to be different and follow the beat of a different drum. I consider myself pretty unique in my thinking and in my attitudes but nothing to the degree of people like these. I've thought that the circus or carnival lifestyle takes a certain kind of person. A person that doesn't necessarily fit in anywhere else. This book was a page turner from front to back, from where Bartholomew is asked to follow, Barnum's mysterious veiled woman all the way to the end with the disastrous fire that destroyed the museum.

Ellen Bryson does a wonderful job of describing the life that these "freaks" lived and how some believed their differences were a gift, while others thought it a curse. I liked how she delved into each person's own secrets and made you suspect that everyone was hiding something. The ending was totally unexpected for me and I liked being surprised.

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is available now from your favorite bookseller!

I give this one 5 out of 5 apples my book bag! A truly unique read!

Here is some more information about Ellen Bryson.

As a young girl, there were three things I wanted to do: dance, write, and be a monk. All three take years of solitude, hard work, and living a life built on a financial quicksand. I’ve been lucky enough to try all three.

For over a decade, I eked out a living as a modern dancer in Cleveland, Boston, and New York. Still in my twenties, I was young enough not to care that I had to support myself waiting table, working as a temp, or in any other job to keep some kind of roof over my head.

Dancers, however, have a short shelf life, and after a certain age I knew I needed to do something else. So I applied and miraculously was accepted into Columbia University’s General Studies program where, with the help of scholarships, I earned a degree in English and creative writing. During the summers, I sat meditation at a Buddhist retreat in Massachusetts, and managed to do two three-month silent retreats. By my third year, I seriously considered taking monastic vows.

But the world was too appealing, so I finished school, and then that old pesky “gotta-eat” thing bit at my heels again. As soon as I graduated, I took my first real job at the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation in Manhattan reviewing grants to mature painters and sculptors. What terrific work. Not part of my life triumvirate, perhaps, but the beginning of a career in philanthropy that lasted over a decade.

It was during this time that I met a Navy SEAL in one of my meditation retreats and married him. (This was way beyond luck.) Together, we started what I like to call our gypsy life. We left New York for San Diego, CA, Duluth, MN, and Manama, Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Eventually, we settled in Washington, DC. There, I went to Johns Hopkins University in DC for an MA in creative writing, working slowly on what would eventually become my first novel.

Just after 9/11, my husband and I decided to do something new: We began to dance the tango. In a moment of inspired insanity, we left our jobs in DC, sold our apartment, and moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to dance. We stayed for three years, renovating an apartment, learning Spanish, and exploring. Tango, it turned out, provided limited pleasure, but writing was great, and living in a country where few spoke English changed my perspective forever. In the end, the controlled craziness of our own country proved more endearing than the uncontrollable craziness of another, and home we came.

We currently live in San Diego, but I suspect it won’t last. We’re already considering a move to Paris.


Mystica said...

I've heard of this book before. Though it sounds odd the book also sounds different.

StephTheBookworm said...

Oooh, I've been DYING to read this!

Llehn said...

This sounds totally unique!! I love it how love always prevails :D

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