The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno


By Ellen Bryson

The Short Take:

Bryson’s first novel takes you inside the freaky world of P. T. Barnum’s museum of oddities and prodigies — human, animal, and inanimate. I found it thoroughly fascinating, both for how it depicted these unique people and their relationships, as well as its thoughtful explorations of the nature of individuality and choices.

Why?

Human oddities: How do they feel about being gawked at for money? Why are they doing this?

While some may have few options, others take pains to keep their appearance far outside the norm. Mr. Fortuno, The World’s Thinnest Man, is one of the latter. He takes great pride in his cadaverous appearance, despite its accompanying pain and limitations. He is also very proud of his position as a “prodigy” at Barnum’s museum, even though he fears Mr. Barnum.

This book explores themes of identity, isolation, transformation, friendship and love, and the repercussions that result with each small choice one makes. At the same time, it lifts the veil on a fascinating world where the vastly unusual and markedly unalike live closely together to form a new kind of human family.

Oh, yes, there are also mysteries to be revealed. That’s about as mesmerizing as you can get.

A Little Plot:

Mr. Fortuno works and lives at Barnum’s New York American Museum. He’s been there for 10 years, is proud of his performances, has a close friendship with Matina the fat lady, and is largely satisfied with his existence. Now that the Civil War is over, things look even brighter.

Then he sees a mysterious veiled lady entering the museum late at night… and he is possessed. He feels he must find out more about her, be near her, protect her. He quickly finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of lies and intrigues, involving the battling Mr. and Mrs. Barnums as well as his fellow oddities, as he strives to be closer to this splendid, secretive woman — a new human oddity for Barnum’s showcase.

And, everything is changing — including Fortuno.

You can learn more about this book and it’s author by clicking here. I think you’ll be fascinated by her, too..

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