Reviews of The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb by Nicholas Rinaldi

The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb

by Nicholas Rinaldi

The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb by Nicholas Rinaldi X
The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb by Nicholas Rinaldi
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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Book Summary

An irresistible novel set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and based on the real life of Tom Thumb, a young man only twenty-five inches tall.

An irresistible novel set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and based on the real life of Tom Thumb, a young man only twenty-five inches tall, who became America's first internationally recognized entertainer.

By a writer whose previous work has been called "sprawling and elegant" (The New York Times Book Review), this novel weaves together a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life during the Civil War and a moving tale of one misfit's odyssey to find his place in the world.

Discovered at age four by P.T. Barnum, Tom Thumb soon finds himself traveling internationally, sitting on the laps of the queens of Europe, and entertaining the masses. He meets Czar Nicholas and the King of Saxony, and is invited to the Tuilleries by Louis Philippe. After marrying Lavinia Warren, Tom and wife are hosted at the White House by President Lincoln. With the country at war, Tom and Lavinia set out on their honeymoon tour and witness firsthand the fracture between the states, the heroism of young soldiers, and the unbreakable spirit of the American people.

Written in a voice that is both witty and lyrical, and with a colorful secondary cast including Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, P.T. Barnum, and notable figures of the period, this is an evocative, poignant imagining of one man's story at a unique moment in American history.

PROLOGUE

LIFE IS A ROAD

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself. . . .
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. . . .
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Long before the war started, it was already there, breathing, rumbling, hidden. It was in the clouds, in the rush of the rivers and in the rain, in the way people talked, the things they said and didn't say. The worry, the awareness that things were wrong and getting worse.

I remember my father saying there was no easy answer, there would be a war and a lot of killing. He looked me in the eye. "And aren't you glad, Charlie, that you're a tiny runt of a dwarf and won't have to carry a gun and fight." It wasn't a question, it was a casual observation that he left hanging in the air. And it made me miserable because even then, young as I was, I didn't like the idea of being left out of anything, especially this wild, strange ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Structurally, the prologue is overly long and I would have enjoyed Tom's early history more if it had been woven into the main chapters. Rinaldi also gives the lion's share of the story to Charlie but at times switches over to Vinnie and it is not always clear that the change is necessary. None of which is to say that the novel is not a superbly enjoyable read, or that the characters are not appealing and well drawn...continued

Full Review (689 words).

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(Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Media Reviews

Booklist
Rollicking...Rinaldi also illuminates the Civil War backdrop to great effect... history lovers will find plenty here to appreciate.

Library Journal
Charlie and Lavinia’s reflections on physical limitations and public persona versus private identity make this book a likely candidate for book club discussion; there are plenty of themes here to generate conversation.

Publishers Weekly
Imaginatively blends fact and fiction... Top-notch entertainment.

Author Blurb Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.
A stunning tour of an era, an American psychological landscape, with its bravura and tragic headstrong drive to command more and more of the world in every sense... a lively, instructive romp that tells us as much about our time as 'back then.'

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Beyond the Book

Phineas T. Barnum

In 1843 in Bridgeport Connecticut, P.T. Barnum hired Charles Stratton, then aged five, to work in his American Museum. In New York, described as "just arrived from England," Charlie became an eleven-year old named Tom Thumb, and soon thrilled the viewing public with his impressions of Napoleon Bonaparte. Of these deceptions, Barnum wrote in his autobiography, "had I announced him as only five years of age, it would have been impossible to excite the interest or awaken the curiosity of the public...he really was a dwarf – and in, this, at least, they were not deceived."

P. T. Barnum Barnum himself was then thirty-three years old, the son of a Connecticut shopkeeper who had begun his career as a showman eight years earlier exhibiting a blind ...

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