Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Julie's Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

Summary: 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. ~amazon.com

Review: What a perfect time to read The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno as I was going to NYC and that is where the book is set after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We are quickly introduced to P.T. Barnum's American Museum and his "Curiosities". One of them is, Bartholomew Fortuno, "The World's Thinnest Man" and at 6' 60 lbs, he is definitely thin. He loves that he has a gift, it is what makes him unique and wondrous. He likes that he's a spectacle. He's made a comfortable life for himself at the Museum and is surrounded by friends and people like him. He's happy and content, until one night when Barnum brings a new woman into the threshold of the museum. This mysterious woman begins to shift the dynamics amongst the players. Relationships that were once solid become broken and people begin to change.

Bartholomew becomes obsessed with the new lady and her mysteries. He thinks that she is lovely and wonderful even though he's only had a couple glances at her. This is what begins him on the path to discover his real self. As much as the book is about the Museum, it's about one man's journey to self-discovery through his perceptions of himself, the people around him and the woman he begins to fall in love with.

I liked Bartholomew but I thought he was a bit naive at times and sometimes his behavior drove me a little batty but in the end I enjoyed his journey. The story is really his and his alone. The other characters just help him on his trip.

I didn't really care for Iell. I thought she was self-absorbed and coniving. I never felt that she really cared for Bartholomew the way he cared for her. I believe she was just using him to escape herself.

Ms. Bryson has an excellent way of making the characters jump off the page to you and in describing the museum. She also wrote Bartholomew in a way that you feel for him, you identify with him and he annoys you; much like a real person.

The book moves along at an even pace and slowly unfolds the secret. As the reader you find out things as Bartholomew does and have similar reactions to situations as he does. I will say that I did figure out a couple of the plot twists but it was nice to have my thoughts confirmed.

I would highly recommend this book if you are a fan of circus history, museum history and anything doing with NYC. The comparisons to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen are understandable but I do think Water for Elephants is just a tighter woven story. That being said, I would definitely recommend that you pick up The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno to be transported to another time and place.

The book is out today; June 22, 2010

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book.

For more information on P.T. Barnum's American Museum, click here

To view the real people the characters were based on click here.
For a view of Manhattan during the time period, click here.

Final Take: 4.25/5



lisa (the little reader) June 23, 2010 at 5:54 PM  

i have this book at home to read, so i'm happy to see that you enjoyed it!

Six July 29, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

I finished this book last night and I loved it. It was the best book I read so far this year. I was interested in reading it because the summary reminded me of my all-time favorite book "Water for Elephants." I have a slight facination with circus life and side show oddities. I wasn't quite sure what to expect for this story, and man was I surprised. I loved the characters of Fortuno and Matina. I was intriged by Iell, the bearded lady, as much as every one else in the novel. The story flowed beautifuly, it was a page turned from the word go. Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of this book. You won't be sorry.


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