Book review: ‘The Boston Girl,’ by Anita Diamant

November 7, 2014 – 09:41 am
Novel, The Boston Girl Anita Diamant’s new novel, “The Boston Girl, ” comes to us as the transcript of a tape-recorded monologue delivered by an 85-year-old woman named Addie Baum. Addie is cheery, alert and full of needlepointed wisdom. If this allegedly spontaneous memoir is any indication, she’s also the most well-organized 85-year-old woman in the world. Asked by her granddaughter to talk about how she got to be the person she is today, Addie takes us back to 1900, the year she was born. From there, she leads us through a series of episodes that have all the color and vibrancy of a plastic bouquet.

Addie was the plucky daughter of immigrants who escaped starvation and violence in Russia to settle in a tiny Boston apartment. “In 1915, there were four of us living in one room, ” she begins. “We had a stove, a table, a few chairs, and a saggy couch that Mameh and Papa slept on at night.”They eat a lot of potatoes and cabbage. Deeply suspicious of America’s loose culture, at home Addie’s parents speak only Yiddish, mostly to bicker. Her mother, in particular, is a joyless hag. She criticizes Addie for wasting her time studying and staying in school: “She’s already ruining her eyes from reading. No one wants to marry a girl with a squint.” That’s Mameh in a nutshell, which is where she stays throughout this novel, huddled and bitter, tossing off worn aphorisms and barbs about everyone else’s failures. (Does Mameh turn sweet and loving on her deathbed? Such is the suspense that electrifies “The Boston Girl.”)

Addie, of course, finds ways to escape her parents’ suffocating expectations. She joins a reading club for Jewish girls. There she meets a better class of people, who introduce her to games and books and leisure activities that would scandalize her mother: lawn tennis, archery, croquet! She has to ask what the word “hiking” means. She’s excited to see a wicker chair for the first time. One of her friends has the cutest dimples in the world.


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