“The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. New York: Scribner 2014. (336 pages).

This is a very different book to “The Red Tent” that that propelled Diamant onto the bestseller list in 1997. This novel is about Boston, the American immigrant story and a girl’s quest to find a place and her voice in the world.
Best-selling author Anita Diamant’s new novel begins as a conversation between 85 year old Addie Baum and her granddaughter Ava who asks “How did you get to be the woman you are today?”. It takes us back to 1900 and her life in the North End of Boston where she lives with her Russian immigrant parents and two sisters. Addie’s voice is clear and sharp and takes us through the history she lived.. This novel is about the sense of place, tracing Boston through the 20th century and Addie’s pride in being a Boston girl. Primarily, “The Boston Girl’’ is about relationships, and the most challenging is between Addie and her hard-hearted mother, Mameh. Old-fashioned, fearful of anything different, Mameh generally disapproves of everyone and everything, except her beloved middle daughter, Celia. Addie yearns for her mother’s love, respect, and acceptance, but her mother is furious with her very American daughter and sees Addie’s triumphs as the worst kind of affront as it threatens Mameh’s way of life.
Addie was born at a time when most women didn’t finish school, couldn’t vote, and worked at low-level jobs until they were married, to men they likely didn’t choose for themselves. The 20th century and women like Addie changed a lot of that and this is their story. She started work in a shirt factory and wound up as a newspaper columnist, living through world wars and worldwide epidemics. In many ways this is a universal story as there are Addie Baum’s in every immigrant story as they are set apart from their parents by the language barriers, the education they receive and the place they find for themselves in the world.
“Oh, Ava, there is so much sadness in this life,” Addie tells her granddaughter. But Addie recounts the the incredible joys, too. There is the bond of lifelong friendships and sisters who grow closer and become more supportive and love that sustains Addie. This is a very readable and enjoyable book, though not of the same caliber as “The Red Tent”. The book rings true and feels like spending a delightful afternoon with a beloved grandmother. It is well-researched with a detailed historical backdrop and would be great for book clubs.
Luba Sawczyn is Branch Manager at the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at lsawczyn@alamancelibraries.org or 336-570-6730.