Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

A fascinating story of one of the world's most famous "little people" is what you'll find in The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel.

Mercy Lavinia (Vinnie) Warren Bump was only 32 inches tall, but she led a big life. Born during a time when a women of her size would have been hidden away to be cared for by her family, Lavinia desired more. As a descendent of families that had come over on the Mayflower, she was determined not to let her small stature define her.

She became a school teacher at the age of 16, where many of her students were larger than she. Of firm resolve and sound mind, her students admired and respected her. A visit from a cousin would give her life new direction. Lavinia began performing on a Mississippi showboat until the Civil War put an end to that career. It would be her letter to P.T. Barnum and meeting Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb) that would catapult Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump to superstar status and bring her fame and fortune.

When Melanie Benjamin toured with Alice I Have Been in 2010, I couldn't work a review into my schedule. The book received so many rave reviews that I kicked myself for months. When I heard she was touring with her latest release, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, I knew I couldn't miss out again. Now I know why so many people loved her first historical novel.

In The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, Benjamin has blended historical details, with research from biographies and personal essays, and her insights into the life of Vinnie to provide a fascinating story that will draw the reader in from the very first page.

I have to admit to not knowing much about Vinnie until now, but reading this book has made me want to learn more. Benjamin portrays Vinnie as an intelligent woman determined not to let her size become an excuse or an obstacle to her leading the life she desires. The author delves deeply into Vinnie's psyche and emotions (something Benjamin says was lacking in anything Vinnie had written), so that the reader is totally captivated by her story.

As a lover of history, I appreciated the historical blurbs that began each chapter. These give the reader a sense for where the country was and what America was experiencing during certain points in Vinnie's life. I feel this was very important, especially for a book such as this, because Vinnie lived during an important time in America. The pioneering life was ending; the country was divided by war for years; the railroad companies were working to connect the east and west coasts; and Vinnie got to be a part of all this in some way or another.

Another thing I appreciate about Benjamin's portrayal is Vinnie's dedication to her younger sister, Minnie, who would end up leaving home and traveling with her sister and brother-in-law, along with another dwarf, Commodore Nutt and performing as the most famous quartet in the world. The two sisters were close, and the author truly brought that to life within the book's pages.

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton led a much more glamorous life than expected. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb creates a believable, engaging portrayal of many of those years. Benjamin is definitely an author I've added to my favorites list. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

Title: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Delacorte Press
ISBN-10: 0385344155
ISBN-13: 978-0385344159
SRP:  $25.00 (hardcover)

Also available in electronic format and as an audio book.

The publisher paid me to promote this book through a virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book. That fee did not include a review. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I received no monetary compensation.


V.R. Leavitt said...

This looks like such a charming story. It's on my to read list.

Jubilee Reviews said...

This was such a delightful read. I reviewed this book as well, and like you said I didn't know much about Vinnie prior to it. I love how Melanie Benjamin brought her into a new generation through her novel!