Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

First line: Light from April's full moon swept over the Museum's facade and down the building's marble veneer.

From the inside cover: 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 and live performances by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities - Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his contentment 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?

As Fortuno searches for the truth, the other performers face trials of their own: Small fires keep erupting in the halls of the museum, and while alert residents quickly dowse them with water, an arsonist clearly lives among them. As the fires grow in size and number, it seems to be only a matter of time before their home will burn down, and so the hunt for the fire-setter is on.

Set in mid-nineteenth century Manhattan, a time when carriage rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos 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 is means to be profoundly unique - and the power of love to transcend even the greatest divisions.

My thoughts: I found this to be quite an interesting read. Set at the end of the Civil War and focusing on Barnum's museum of "curiosities," it is a tale of acceptance of yourself and of others. Ellen Bryson manages to not only humanize the "curiosities" - but shows us the beauty of their strange physicalities. The story of Bartholomew Fortuno and his unique friends at the museum is a thought-provoking one, yet also filled with a little romance and suspense. Are the "quirks" people have due to birth or circumstances of nature? I found this book beautifully written and thought Ellen Bryson created a vivid sense of place. At times I felt as if I was right there in the museum, able to see all the strangeness that people paid to see - which I am amazed actually happened! I am looking forward to seeing what comes next for Ellen Bryson.

I received a complimentary copy of The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson from Henry Holt and Company Publishers to review.


  1. I have seen other favorable reviews for this book. I have added it to my TBR list for sure!

  2. Well, I can certainly say this sounds like a very unique book. And I can also say I haven't read many books that take place in this particular time period which makes me even more intrigued. Definitely going to keep an eye out for this one: it sounds like a book I don't want to miss.


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