The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman

In the city of New York, 1911, many strange and unspeakable things are happening. A girl, Coralie, has lived her entire life in the small world of her father’s museum, obedient to this charismatic yet unstable man. Now, at his wish, she is nightly swimming the Hudson River in costume, breeding an urban legend he intends to cash in on. But it is impossible for the smart, headstrong, curious girl Coralie is deep within to remain demure and obedient forever, especially in the face of such injustices as her father puts her through. Across the same city, a young man going by the name of Eddie has fled the darkness and burden of his past: losing his mother to the Russian pogram, watching his father’s seeming cowardice, always being expected to quietly conform. Turning from the ordered Jewish life of his birth, Eddie has gained a measure of freedom, and even beauty through the lens of his camera, yet the past still seems to pursue him. When these two pained, disillusioned souls meet by chance one day, neither could have expected the consequences or the hopes born in that moment.

As with so many of her books, Alice Hoffman does something magical in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. She creates at the border between the real world and the world of magic, between the mundane and the wondrous. In this story, Hoffman honestly, with great historical detail, displays the harsher sides of life in New York in the early 1900s–people put on display or sold for a pittance, workers in brutal conditions for impossibly low wages, and worse. Yet still, somehow, there is a thread of wonder winding throughout the story. I suppose this is the sort of story that makes one believe amazing things are possible, even when life looks darkest. And that love is possible, even for those who are battered, worn, and disillusioned, afraid to even believe in the possibility of love. I would note that this book is fairly graphic in its description of both great and violent tragedies and of sexual and personal abuses–I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18, maybe even 21. For mature readers, though, I think The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a moving, mysterious story that is fascinating to read.

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