Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

This is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the 20th century. 

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses.  An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father's "museum," alongside performers like the wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a 100 year old turtle.  One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.  The photographer, Eddie Cohen, is a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor's apprentice.  When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.  

New York itself becomes a character in this magic, romantic, and masterful tale well told by Hoffman.  The descriptions of New York City around 1911 are superb. And the two historical events that the fiction is based between (The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Dreamland Amusement Park Fire) were horrific happenings.  She also has a further reading list in the back of the book that gives you excellent supplementary information about Coney Island, the Lower East Side and Triangle Fire, and even further Photography references.  I know this book is going to resonate with me for a long time.

I also enjoyed her earlier book "The Dovekeepers," which was a tour de force of research and imagination concerning Masada, the ancient fortress on top of a rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.

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