Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Boston Girl

I've read a couple of books by Anita Diamant (The Red Tent, and The Last Days of Dogtown), but her most recent, The Boston Girl, is by far my favorite. I listened to the audio version read by Linda Lavin, who was absolutely perfect doing the first-person narration.

Addie Balm is the daughter of Jewish immigrants, born in 1900 in Boston. She relates her life story focusing on her teen years and early twenties, basically from the onset of puberty to her marriage.

I loved hearing about life in Boston in the first decades of the 20th century, particularly the Saturday Club, where daughters of various immigrant groups came together to recreate, relax, form friendships, and try out leadership roles. I also loved learning about Rockport Lodge, where young women could spend a week relaxing and learning about nature and the world outside of the city.  I read an article about the book and it seems that Rockport Lodge was the inspiration behind the novel, which makes perfect sense to me.

And, of course, I loved hearing about Addie's work as first a typist, then a copy editor, then a writer for a magazine.  One of my favorite books is James Thurber's The Years With Ross, about Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker. While the publication Addie worked for is no New Yorker, the vibe of the newsroom brought back fond memories of Thurber's memoir.

The characters in The Boston Girl are marvelous--the contrast between Addie's two older sisters, Betty and Celia, is interesting to think about--both were immigrants like their parents--one embraced the new world and the other couldn't. Addie's parents, her brother-in-law, and especially her friends are complex, interesting, flawed, and very real. And then there are her mentors--the women who invest their time and money into helping younger women find a way out of poverty and powerlessness so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. Addie's own mother was an  anchor, and not in a good way, but Addie found surrogate mothers who showed her that she had talent and worth and helped her at key points in her life.

Finally, the historical events and how they shaped lives were fascinating to read about--the sweat shops, the Great War, the Spanish flu, prohibition--they all are a factor in Addie's life.

Wonderful book--one of my favorites so far this year. It is full of energy and hope, tempered with pragmatism. Addie is a heroine that reminds me of Francie Nolan, of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


  1. You've convinced me! I loved The Red Tent and, to a lesser degree, The Last Days of Dogtown. Thanks for the tip on the audio, too. Linda Lavin narrated RBG's My Own Words, which I listened to over the winter... she was amazing.

  2. Jane, this is one that I always meant to try but, haven't. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I have not read Diamont but She sounds like a worthy writer. This sounds very good. Two things seem particularly appealing. Based upon your commentary The characters seem well drawn and the history seems fascinating.

  4. Hmm. Thx Jane you have me putting this novel back on my TBR. It sounds like a good audio listen too. I liked The Red Tent quite a lot ... and might have to seek out the Dogtown book too. She is a good author.

  5. Linda Lavin of Alice fame? How wonderful! :D

    I see The Red Tent all the time but have yet to pick it up. I should for sure give Diamant a chance one of these days because Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres of literature.

  6. Oh, I loved The Red Tent. I read it many years ago. I have since amassed pretty much everything she has written. I'm glad to hear this one is a good one. I will get to it someday. Great review!

  7. Anita Diamant is a writer I've been meaning to read for some time and your review describes this book so well that The Boston Girl is the book I want to start with. I like Boston and the time period in which its set. And the contrast between Addie and her sisters, one embracing the new world and the other not able to sounds like it will make for a fascinating read as well.

  8. I have put this one on my book club's list and taken it off and put it back on and taken it back off - different things just kept coming up and then I just hadn't heard much about it. Sounds like I need to put it back on!

  9. I have heard such good things about The Boston Girl, and your review is another one! It really does sound good - I should try to get to it! Thanks for the review and extra prod :)

    I also wanted you to know that I kicked off the 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge this weekend! I hope you'll join the fun again this summer -


    2019 Big Book Summer Challenge