I have no plans to post a full on review of Boston Girl. There was a good amount of hype about it when it came out and I know at least several bloggers out here in the blog land have covered it pretty well so I don’t think my review will have much to add. I do want to offer my reflections on the books as more is free form thoughts. Plus having read The Red Tent as basically my inaugural review I can’t not mention Boston Girl
This was my second (?) fiction book of Diamant’s. Actually I think it may have been third but I have almost no memories of reading the other one so my gut memory tells me I either hated it or it was no good. Boston Girl has a funny flavor to it. From the first impression the writing is almost essay like, with chapter headings posed as questions, and the feeling is as if I am reading serialized newspaper articles rather than a coherent flowing novel. Not to say I hate the style though, though at first I thought it quite a bit choppy. But in the end I feel like I did see it for what it was meant to be, a style easily identified as speech of an elderly person from a certain time and of a certain age. When I was sixteen, I worked for an organization that interfaced teens with the elderly in what I am now guessing was a way for education all around. We all had a couple of elderly people that we visited every week and we talked to them about their lives, asked questions and at the end of the year we wrote their stories down in an anthology published by this organization YouthCares ( God I haven’t thought of those guys in over a decade and I still have my anthology!). At the time I was still shaky with my English so I had interacted with a Russian speaking lady and an American. The Russian lady spoke of the war and the Holocaust, things I related to already because of my family’s Holocaust experience. But the American spoke of growing up in the twenties. Granted this was a decade after Boston Girl but the sentiment and pattern or speech was the same. Slightly stilted, archaic wording but the stories beautifully flowed. I find it all as fascinating now as I did at 16.
Diamant’s Addie Baum grows up as the first American born of a Jewish immigrant family and she is torn between the world of modernity and the Jewish Old World expectations. Like a good Jewish girl, she is expected to do everything around the house, be obedient and respectful, not interact with strangers, not even speak English at home. She is expected to remain in the proverbial ghetto even as the new century opens new opportunities for those wiling to take them. And Addie takes them, the entirety of the book is proof of her rising above familial limitations and living the life she wanted while creating her own path. I learned much about hard life in the tenements, about the racism Jews faced in Boston and stereotypes they had to overcome. At the same time, I felt Diamant did a great job showcasing parts of Jewish traditions that have as much meaning now as they did back then: the emphasis on family participation in Jewish family events, from weddings to sitting shiva, and the importance of having family holding you up even when it’s against family members, case in point Addie’s sister Betty. Addie delves into the world beyond the ghetto and meets other women in her truly international neighborhood that open her eyes to new books, to new ideas, to popular culture and to the world of more than just marrying as soon as one is able to.
Anyway I was surprised how much I ended up getting out of this story. Seems like Diamant’s other fiction deserves a second try. Women like Addie who were contemporaries of my grandmothers paved the way for us today. Sure my grandmothers likely wanted marriage and family, but they did more. My maternal grandmother born in 1915 became a nurse in the 30s and my paternal grandmother ran a shop at the market with her sister and later own helped my grandfather run a vineyard. These were modern women, early modern granted, but modern enough to step out of the ghetto to do what needed to be done.