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The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (Book Review 2010-103)

Product Description

Water for Elephants meets Geek Love in this riveting first novel, an enchanting love story set in P. T. Barnum's American Museum in 1865 New York City
Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P. T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays, breathtaking theatrical performances, and live shows by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of constant work, he finds his sense of self, and his contentment within the walls of the museum, flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer—Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside down. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts of those around her?
Set in the New York of 1865, a time when carriages rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos near the docks thrived, and the country was mourning the death of President Lincoln, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novel about human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique—and how the power of love can transcend even the greatest divisions.

About the Author

Ellen Bryson holds a BA in English from Columbia University and an MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Formerly a modern dancer, she lives in Southern California. This is her first novel. 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091922


This has to be one of the best novels I have read this year.  After a slow start, I fell in love with all of the characters which are based on the freaks and geeks of the circus and somewhat on fact.  Bartholomew, who is billed as the thinnest man on earth has his world come apart when he meets the bearded lady.  This turns out to be a love triangle in some sense.  The story is really one of acceptance of yourself and others.  This is one moments that just shocked me, but it made the story really make sense and come alive.  I also should have seen it coming.

Bryson does a super job of interweaving the fact with her fiction.  She places handwritten notes, playbills and other documents within the pages.  I really enjoy off-kilter stories and this one just really hit me right.  I look forward to another one by this author.  You will probably enjoy this if you liked Geek Love by Katherine Dunn or Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.


  1. Great review! Really want to read this.


  3. I loved Water for Elephants, this definitely looks interesting.

  4. I enjoyed Water for Elephants.
    You gave this one a great review.
    The circus kind of life has to be really different way to live. I just can't imagine it.

  5. This sounds like a great read! I am adding it to my TBR list. Thanks for sharing, Mary!

  6. I just read Geek Love last week - this look like it would be a perfect one to follow it. And I love Water for Elephants!


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