SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, by Ellen Bryson

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The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, by Ellen Bryson

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, by Ellen Bryson (Picador, 4 Feb. 2011)

The title and cover illustration of this book give the impression that it is about someone turning into a saint, but is turns out to be the opposite. The story centres around a group of sympathetically portrayed “Human Curiosities” who are exhibited in PT Barnum’s freak show museum, of whom some have the choice of transforming into ordinary humans. By contrast, others are not curiosities by choice, but by birth, and nightmarishly deformed. Bartholomew is a “human skeleton” who falls in love with a fascinating bearded woman and thus starts doubting his “gift” of being able to live on four beans a day.

Highly absorbing, this suspenseful, well-illustrated debut novel will drive you to the Internet to find out more about this terrible historical reality.

Readers who like the subject might also enjoy Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

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