The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant★★★☆☆

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

Anita Diamant is best known for her book The Red Tent which I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot say the same for this one.

The novel is presented as a monologue memoir chronicling her life, in Boston, from her birth in 1900, to Jewish immigrants, to her marriage in 1927. These years are covered in great detail, but her life after her marriage is glossed over.

I didn’t feel like there was anything particularly spectacular about The Boston Girl, but there was something about the tone ,and the ease with which the story was told, that made it tolerable.

Addie, the 85-year-old narrator, thinking back on her experiences as a child and young woman at the beginning of the 20th century, is a great story-teller but the emotion of her stories is often painted too broadly to let the book feel like an intimate, personal tale. At times, I found myself rereading, not believing what I just read. For instance, the funeral scene with half-sized caskets and the mournful remembrance, “He liked peas and his first word was ball”.

This book lacks sparkle. It is a plain and predictable recounting of her life: this happened and then this happened and then this happened . . . Things happen to her family and friends but not to her. At a young age, she is recognized as someone possessing intelligence and “gumption” and so acquires mentors and a circle of sympathetic friends who support her so she is never without a job or a place to live. When tragedies occur in her family, she seems largely detached; she describes her feelings, but she seems to recover quickly. The result is one anecdote, after another, with no suspense since nothing dramatic happens in her life. And once she is married, nothing noteworthy occurs.

The one thing that does stand out is Addie’s voice. Her tone is convincingly conversational. She speaks very frankly to her 22 year old granddaughter as if she is 9. She can be witty. Unfortunately, she doesn’t offer any new wisdom; she tells her granddaughter ,“Don’t let anyone tell you things aren’t better than they used to be”. And that’s it.

I have a hard time believing this is the same author as the writer of The Red Tent. A really hard time… This book lacks substance, a week from now I will barely remember having read it…

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1 Response to The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

  1. daphnedawn says:

    I’m sad to hear this wasn’t as good as The Red Tent. I read it many years ago and really enjoyed it.


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