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text 2016-06-03 14:07
The Forgotten Flapper: A Novel of Olive Thomas - Laini Giles
The Boston Girl: A Novel - Anita Diamant
Rare Objects: A Novel - Kathleen Tessaro

Are the 1910s–1930s making a comeback? See this week's post, “The Fog of War.”

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review 2015-11-25 06:13
The Boston Girl
The Boston Girl: A Novel - Anita Diamant

I chose this book from NetGalley because I've read a couple of Anita Diamant’s books and I really enjoyed them. I like that after reading them, I feel satisfied that I’ve read a good story and also, somehow, smarter. She has a gift for telling complicated stories in an elegant, simple manner, and the story of Addie Baum is no different. Addie tells her story to her granddaughter with the benefit of years and hindsight, and Diamant brings the book up-to-date with nods to current trends in contrast to Addie’s experience.

 

This is the story of a young woman living through periods of great change in women’s roles, and Diamant gives us a capable heroine to challenge the status quo. For me, something about the telling reminded me of a more grown-up version of the Betsy-Tacy stories my daughters and I read aloud together a couple of years ago. This is meant as a compliment, as they were a highlight in our reading, and Betsy was a well-loved character. We read all of those stories as they spanned her lifetime, just as Addie’s story spans almost a century, and the many changes those times brought. As I’ve come to understand, reading a book by Anita Diamant is always time well spent.

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text 2015-03-12 21:02
This is a nostalgic picture of Jewish life in the early 20th century.
The Boston Girl: A Novel - Anita Diamant

Grandmother Addie Baum tells her compelling story to her grandchild, Ada, who is her namesake, though that was not widely known, at first, for reasons the reader will learn. The entire tale plays out as Addie reveals her deepest secrets with humor, honesty and nostalgia. She was born in 1900. The book ends in 1985. She has come a long way. My book was read by Linda Lavin who did a superb job with her portrayal. I could see her on the stage addressing the audience as if each and everyone was Ada.

Boston Girl presents a wonderfully accurate description of Jewish life, at the turn of the century, with an overbearing mother who is steeped in the traditions and superstitions of the times. The father often appeared gentler, but he truly ruled the roost. His home was his castle, and he had his throne. In my home, a chair was dedicated specifically for my dad. He was the breadwinner. No one would sit his chair. It belonged to him wherever it was, in the living room, the dining room, wherever. It was sacrosanct. However, both parents demanded unquestioned respect and obedience from their offspring.

When Addie was about 16, she came into her own and began to experience life. She had been extremely sheltered, like the Jewish girls of those times, and life was a bit of a surprise and sometimes a disappointment to her, as she learned more about how people interacted with each other and what was expected of her in the general public. Oh, how the times were different. Pre-marital sex was forbidden, dorms were single sex, curfews were in effect, and alcohol was prohibited, although speakeasies proliferated. Abortion was a crime; the girls who got caught were ridiculed, shamed and exiled. Pregnant teachers had to stop working, there were strict dress requirements in school and the workplace, fraternizing with anyone outside your culture, color, religion, and social status, was anathema. As she relates her little vignettes, Addie so clearly describes life then, that the reader finds he/she is there with her. The custom of eating Chinese food on Sunday or keeping a kosher home, mothers as masters of Jewish guilt and arranged marriages, were all a part of life in those days. Addie takes us through suffrage and the women’s rights movement, the war years, prohibition, the depression and the civil rights marches. She was a pioneer; she lived alone at a time when it was frowned upon. She was independent when independence was a fault in a woman. She was smart when women were supposed to be docile and unschooled. Addie was the forerunner of the modern woman. She was willing to step out there and take some risks.

The culture of the immigrant Jews, right down to their customs, prejudices, complaints, joys, sacrifices and ultimately, their appreciation for the opportunity afforded them in America, is presented clearly with Addie’s confession. The book will be very evocative for those of us who can identify with Addie’s past as she describes her escapades and the things that brought her both happiness and sorrow. The moral standards of the day were so different, the parental behavior and acceptable child’s behavior were polar opposites of the customs today. Permissiveness was a non-issue, although there will always be children who push the envelope and blaze the trail, regardless of the times.

Addie’s background was similar to my mother-in-law’s, right down to the horse and wagon, right down to the spiritual beliefs. My own mother often had the same backward notions as Addie’s mother, although my mother and my mother-in-law were younger and represented the next generation. Times changed slowly. Jewish women of the time may have seemed hard in their behavior toward their daughters, but actually, most were trying to protect them from a society that gave them few rights. They were the homemakers. Defiance was usually not a welcome option. Women were not educated; they were merely supposed to be compliant; they were, after all, the weaker sex at that time. The men were the earners. Religiously, they were ruled by their dogma and the male had the final say in all matters.

In addition to the culture, the history and development of the Jewish communities around Boston in places like Roxbury and Brookline, she touches on the history of some of Boston’s famous institutions like the launch of the swan boats in the public garden. Even the Red Sox were revered in the book. She took part in the development of social services for those less privileged. She witnessed the movement for equality among races and religions, children, women and men. She remembered the orphan trains in Minnesota, the flu epidemics and the loss of lives from war and disease from which there was no relief. Medicine had not advanced far enough to help those afflicted. She analyzed and exposed the development of the liberal policies in government that many Jewish people still support.

Addie lived through almost a century of massive change by the time the book ends, with technological advances like computers, antibiotics and jet planes, inventions that she could never have dreamed of as a young girl. Essentially, Addie was a self-made woman who remade herself whenever the opportunity or necessity presented itself, eventually obtaining an education and a career in many places. She was hard-working and ethical and succeeded because of her sense of responsibility and integrity. She took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to her. She had a fantastic spirit, was a good friend, always offered a helping hand, and always looked at the bright side of things, moving forward, embracing life, even at the end, at 85, vowing to continue on. The reader would probably like to know someone like Addie, I know I would.

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review 2015-02-19 00:00
The Boston Girl: A Novel
The Boston Girl: A Novel - Anita Diamant Born in the early 1900’s Addie Baum was the first child in her family to be born in America. She grew up in the North End of Boston … “before it was trendy” … Jewish, poor and in the shadow of her sisters – one the perfect daughter and the other the rebel. Addie spent most of her early years trying to find just where she fit in with her family. As her horizons broaden and she makes multi-cultural friends she finds not only a place for herself, but her own strength as well. The reader is allowed to listen in as Addie, now 85, relates the details of her life to her granddaughter, who is about to graduate from Harvard and be ordained as a Rabbi (“Oh my, if my father were alive to know his great-granddaughter was going to be a Rabbi his head would explode”). This was a time period that still believed a woman’s greatest purpose in life was to get married and have children, but it was also a time period where feminism began to poke its head out publicly and Margaret Sanger tried to give women some control over their own bodies. Women dared to show their ankles and wear trousers. Teaching was no longer the only acceptable profession for a woman UNTIL she got married. Colleges accepted women into previously “male only” curriculums and young ladies did not lose their respectability if they went to work and lived on their own. Massachusetts was deciding whether to give women the right to vote and Child Labor Laws were being written and challenged. Through Addie we learn what it was like to live, not only in an immigrant family, but also as a woman in that time period. Addie’s story is made up of everything that constitutes a real life. She shares the angst of her teen years, the arguments with parents who want to keep things “the old way”, first loves, first heartbreaks, tragedy and happiness. She takes us through the flu epidemic, two world wars and the great depression and she does so with her unique outlook on life and with humor and poignancy.

I chose to listen to this book on audio, read by Linda Lavin. She did an outstanding job as the reader. Her voice was beautifully animated bringing Addie to life. It made me feel as if I was sitting there in a room with her, maybe with a fire going but definitely with a cup of tea, listening intently and not wanting to interrupt. Much credit to both
Ms. Diamant and Ms. Lavin … Addie’s voice was both written and read beautifully.

This book was a delight to read (listen to!). I do most of my audio book listening in the car on the way to and home from work. This was one of those books that I did not want to turn off when I reached my destination. Traffic jams seemed less annoying. Addie would definitely fall into the “cool grandmother” category and I loved her and the book.
______________

On a personal note ... sometimes rating books is really difficult! How can I rate this book with 5 stars and then finish my next read “The Great Zoo of China” and award it 5 stars as well? Two totally different genres and the books couldn’t be more diverse in subject matter yet they both stood strong in their own niche. Meh – Addie was an English student … no doubt, she’d understand and approve and I’ll just have to live with it. LOL
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review 2015-01-05 00:00
The Boston Girl: A Novel
The Boston Girl: A Novel - Anita Diamant "How did you get to be the woman you are today?"

When Addie Baum's 22-year-old granddaughter, Ava, asks her grandmother this very question, she is regaled with the wonderful narrative of Addie's life, reliving every vivid moment from the time she was 15, a young Jewish girl growing up in Boston during the early 20th century. Addie Baum, now 85, was a smart and spunky young spitfire, with progressive ideas for the time she was living in. We get to see the world through her eyes, and to experience many world changing events going on around her, from child labor and women's suffrage to fighting with her parents to allow her to remain in school. She's loved, she's lost, but she was always been her own person. She's a strong likeable character with a knack for telling a story, which I suppose is really the author's knack, but the way it was written, you never felt like she was reciting, but definitely reliving.

This was such an interesting and engaging read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book since it's not a genre I normally read. Historical fiction, yes, although there's usually an element of fantasy or steampunk to my usual historical reads. This book, while still fiction, was simply a well-written piece of fiction told in an autobiographical memoir style.

Since it took place in Boston, and setting was such an important element to this story, I knew I had to read it. I've been in California five years now, but I often long for home and there's lots of things I miss about New England, and Boston in particular. So much of this story elicited strong feelings of place within me. I could truly picture myself walking along the streets of the North End, small little tenements lining each side, or down the cafe-lined streets of Hanover Street. The author certainly has a knack for emoting with a place, and I loved experiencing it through this novel.

I don't know a lot about Jewish families and traditions, having only experienced them from the outside, but so much of the Jewish family dynamics reminded me of my own Italian roots, from which I'm descended on my mother's side. I truly felt like I took a very entertaining, and yes educational, trip through history after reading this book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
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