Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

I've been trying to finish reading my ebooks for a very very very long time and am still half way through most of them. I NEVER HAD TROUBLE FINISHING A BOOK BEFORE (except for really sleep-inducing ones)! So I told myself to stop with the ebooks and get back to paperbacks (I don't really fancy hardcovers either :P). And I MUST SOON as I need a good read for our trip to Florida. And so I did! It was tough choosing the RIGHT book. The book that SPOKE to me. Went to Barnes & Noble but none of the books displayed caught my attention. Checked out Walmart too. None. I almost gave up until we went to Target.

There...I found...The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Somehow, my hands just reached out for it. Browsing the first few pages was good enough for me to decide to get it. And my instincts were right :)

Title/Author: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb / Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 458
ISBN 13: 978-0-385-34416-6
In a nutshell: Mrs. Tom Thumb, or rather Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump, was only two feet, eight inches tall. Even as minute as she was, the world couldn't contain her dreams. She claimed, "Yes, my height would be the first thing people noticed about me, but it would not be the last."
Somehow she knew she was meant to do great things and not confined to her life in her family farm in Middleborough, Massachusetts. She defined herself before the world could. "Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it."
She probably got her sense of adventure and need to achieve success of magnanimous proportions from her mother's side. "I can trace my pedigree on my mother's side back through Richard Warren of the Mayflower Company, to William, Earl of Warren, who married Gundreda, daughter of William the Conqueror."
At 17, she was hired as a teacher and immediately drew respect from her students as "Without a murmur, every child obeyed my command." Then, the watershed moment happened in March of 1858, when Colonel John Wood showed up at their door, offering Vinnie a job as an 'entertainer' on his showboat. Thinking of the opportunities it offered she accepted it and before you know it, she worked for the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married the tiny supserstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and became the world's most unexpected celebrity.
Life couldn't be better, until Vinnie's similary-sized sister, Minnie, joined her in her tours and performances. Vinnie loved her sister tremendously and knew Minnie was too gentle of a soul to be following her path. She did all she could to "keep her sister safe" whose life came to a tragic end. What happened after that made Vinnie really reflected on life, love and purpose.
What I liked
This was a beautifully-written book. I liked how Benjamin made something researched so readable. Her storytelling was strong and solid. The pace was good and story was rich in detail without being cumbersome. It's as though Vinnie wrote this book herself. 
Vinnie's character was so well infused in this autobiography. One particular moment stood out to me: When Vinnie was hired as a teacher, she asked for her wage. Everyone must have thought it amusing as they broke into "helpless guffaws". Later she understood that people found it very odd to hear such a request coming from a person like her - small and female, what more, a female with no other prospects, to be asking for salary. What was offered to her, was she "suspected was likely and act of charity". Did she get her salary in the end? But of course :)
I liked how the author developed Vinnie's relationship with the characters. Each were given equal attention, with more on Barnum and rightly so as we will find out where Vinnie's heart really was.
Although the strength of her relationship with Minnie was brought in later in the story, I could feel their bond and love for each other. And what happened to Minnie later in the story made me cry buckets. It showed me what a big person Minnie was despite her size.
It would have been better if...
there were more pictures of Vinnie, her travels and companions would have made this reading experience more enriching.
My verdict? 4/5
I'm so glad I picked this up for my Florida getaway :)
Let me end this review by sharing one of my favourite paragraphs in this story.
"We were all four (Mr & Mrs Tom Thumb and Mr and Mrs Bleeker) seated in one of the parlors after dinner; it was particularly cozy on this night, as it was frigid outside, but inside we had the warm familiarity of flocked wallpaper, worn carpet, chipped hotel dinnerware. That was the life we knew, the four of us, and we had shared for so long. The few times we saw one another out of such surroundings - not on a train, or in a theater or a hotel - it seemed odd; we always acted stiff, uncomfortable, overly formal. This was where we belonged - in anonymous hotels, in cities we never saw save from a train window or from a stage door. It may sound depressing, but it was not; rather the bland anonymity of our surroundings served only to sharpen our identities, making us dear and recognizable to one another - making us a family." (pg. 371)

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