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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Title:  The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman
Published February 18th 2014 by Scribner
ISBN: 1451693583
Pages:  ebook 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC copy
Genre: historical – fiction, mystery and romance
My Rating: 4 Crowns

Coney Island, 1911: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of a self-proclaimed scientist and professor who acts as the impresario of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show offering amazement and entertainment to the masses. An extraordinary swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl,and a 100 year old turtle, in her father's ""museum"". She swims regularly in New York's Hudson River, and one night stumbles upon a striking young man alone in the woods photographing moon-lit trees. From that moment, Coralie knows her life will never be the same.
The dashing photographer Coralie spies is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community. As Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and the dispute between factory owners and labourers. In the tumultuous times that characterized life in New York between the world wars, Coralie and Eddie's lives come crashing together in Alice Hoffman's mesmerizing, imaginative, and romantic new novel.

My thoughts:

This story takes place in the early 1900’s in New York City with Hoffman detailing what it must have been like to live at this time in this city. The major feature of her story are the two major fires that took place at that time: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Dreamland Fire that for all practical purposes destroyed the area of Coney Island. Her recount of both fires was just extraordinary – it had me frantically searching Google to find out more and to see the images with my own eyes. Her prose was such that you felt you were standing beside Eddie as he photographed the factory fire.

The story follows the lives of two young people:

Coralie Sardie whose father owns a museum that today would be called a freak show, “My father called them wonders but to the world they were freaks – they were unique and fascinating and terribly brave in the ways they revealed their most secret selves… Coralie – was her fathers daughter,  a living wonder, an oddity no common man could ever understand” – or so she thought.

Ezekiel Cohen who came to this country with his father ends up disowning his religion and his father and sets out to be a photographer: “He yearned for the ability to see into the world of shadows …he saw only the light, darkness, black or while and all that lay in between was invisible to his eyes….Eddie’s purpose was to pursue the light and find what was lost….to see true beauty of the world and … to capture a single moment of that beauty”.

I had trouble with part of the evolvement of the story in the relationship between the two leads and the lack of true reconciliation between Eddie and his father. Even the ending seemed somewhat rushed with loose ends quickly tied in one all encompassing letter. Inspite of this I found this tale to be a beautifully told story that should more than satisfy the reader interested in this period of history and also those who are looking for some romance mixed with mystery. 

“Was the future set or could a man change his destiny and make his own decisions as to what came next?”

Reviewed by Helen

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