This was an excellent read tbh. Partly historical fiction and partly a rich description of New York City as it was being built up, this book, I’m pretty sure, was written just for me. It tells the story of poor Jewish immigrants, of young girls and boys working in terrible conditions just to earn money to feed themselves, of the things people will do to earn a living and I think what I really appreciate about this novel is how Hoffman includes characters who are often overlooked by history and gives them a voice in her text.
The novel has two alternating narratives – Coralie, the daughter of a man who owns quite literally a museum of extraordinary things, and Eddie, the son of a poor Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. Coralie’s narrative introduces us to a world in which people with physical disabilities (abnormalities?), such as excessive facial and body hair or webbed hands, earned money by taking part in seasonal shows in which they’d display themselves to the public. Coralie, brought up in near solitude, is fascinated by these people; kept separated from the world she develops her own understanding of the world she inhabits. She is a character almost entirely free from the prejudice of her times and it makes her a sympathetic and intriguing character. Eddie, by comparison, is a character
after my own heart full of rage for the world around him. Because he has experienced extreme poverty and discrimination for both his foreignness and religious background, Eddie’s experience of New York is far different to Coralie’s. Eddie is a quintessential working-class character, and it is through him that we are introduced to the uglier side of New York City – a place in which people worked eighteen hour days for the smallest wage a company could get away with giving them, a place in which political corruption, racism, and crime was rife. I adored the difference in the narratives; the vivid imagery of New York City was fascinating to read about tbh. I loved them both; Coralie’s wide-eyed appreciation for the beauty in the world and Eddie’s anger for the injustice he saw and experienced – the narratives worked well together to give a complete view of the time period.
There is of course a love story but for much of the novel it is subtle and therefore never takes over the story that is being told. I ended up really enjoying the romance aspect because Eddie and Coralie really felt like they were made for each other, which isn’t something I often feel about the relationships in a lot of the books I read.
Obviously for me the historical aspect was the most fascinating but this is a novel which pretty much crosses genres – there is a murder mystery, romance, and even a touch of Gothic themes. Basically you should all read this book immediately, yes/yes?