The Boston Girl: A Novel
The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. (Scribner, 336 pp.)
When her 22-year-old granddaughter asks her how she got to be the woman she is today, 85- year-old Addie Baum is off and running. And, since it’s the work of Anita Diamant, The Boston Girl is a finely honed story at that.
Born in 1900, Addie comes of age in Boston’s North End during an era when women were just beginning to emerge into new worlds of opportunity and adventure. None of which sits well with her immigrant parents whose worldview equates the nascent American dream of equal rights for women with rampant immorality.
“Ungrateful worm. Monster. A plague you are,” says Mameh, as she slaps her daughter around. It is no surprise that, encouraged by her teachers and, like her older sister, Betty, before her, Addie grabs the brass ring of education, independence and the American way with all the desperation of a drowning soul.
Addie finds respite from the squalor and misery of the family home at the local settlement house and Rockport Lodge, where she is exposed to the intellectual life, croquet and women wearing pants.
Diamant, beloved by fans for her perennial best-selling The Red Tent (St. Martin’s), transports the reader to Boston of yesteryear, complete with swan boats in the Common and Filene’s department store.
She also conveys what it was like to be a Jewish woman trapped between tradition and modernity—Addie’s toxic family traditions are no match for this brave new world. She takes a newspaper job and survives love with a nasty hunk and the suicide of her beloved younger sister, Celia.
After she finally meets Mr. Right (a superhumanly patient child welfare lawyer) and Mameh curses her for the last time, Addie’s story fast-forwards through motherhood and work as a social worker-cum-
professor. The novel leaves us in 1985 when we discover that the granddaughter in question is a Harvard graduate and future rabbi.
One ingredient is oddly missing from The Boston Girl. There’s little doubt here who wears the white and black hats. But can’t Mameh speak just one kind word, or Papa muster a single smile for this bright, lively daughter?
Diamant offers a spunky protagonist who survives a nasty childhood during times of whirlwind change. But perhaps the burden of representing a whole generation of smart Jewish women rising up to their full potential is too heavy for Addie’s shoulders. This burden may have robbed her of the introspection and doubt, the transcendence and growth that invite fictional characters to lift off the page and into readers’ hearts.
Deborah Fineblum Schabb is coauthor of LifeJourney Books Do-It-Yourself Memoir Workbook (www.LifeJourneyBooks.com).