The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A Novel

Image of The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
June 6, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 
352
Reviewed by: 

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is an adult historical fiction novel that challenges our definitions of what is normal and what we think is true about ourselves. Through the eyes, heart, and mind of an unapologetic circus “curiosity,” we delve into how someone considered outside the norm, a “freak,” experiences normal issues and life-altering events such as desire, true love, loyalty, freedom, fidelity, life mission, and more.

Are you using your gifts in the way that you were destined to? How sure are you? Bartholomew Fortuno, the thinnest man in the world, lives and performs in Phineas T. Barnum’s American Museum. And he is absolutely certain that he is fulfilling his destiny.

What more could he possibly need? He is highly educated. He has a group of friends who share their lives with him as tenants and co-workers in the museum. P. T. Barnum has provided him a world where he fits in with the other “freaks” and prodigies, and he feels safe and secure. He does not need the outside world. He has his life under control. Mr. Fortuno makes self-justification a philosophical and logical science.

This is New York City. Post Civil War, it is no place for the weak-hearted or the weak-minded. But when a new performer slowly piques his intellectual and sexual interest, Mr. Fortuno’s mission becomes blurred, his bravado weakens. Who is the mysterious, bearded lady that the outrageous showman P. T. is hiding? How much loyalty to his employer must he forfeit in order to know the truth? How much fidelity to his friends must he sacrifice to get closer to this woman without completely losing all that he believes in, all that he revels in? The boundaries between normalcy and abnormalcy get thinner and more transparent as the riskiness of the choices he faces increases.

Ellen Bryson’s story takes place around the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. The author includes this historical event to help solidify the plot and further flesh out her main characters. The reader sees the effects of a nation without its leader; a nation rife with discrimination despite the Emancipation Proclamation—a nation full of freaks and yet disdainful of them, too. At a time in United States history when nothing seems certain, and the definition of appropriateness has precise boundaries in society, Mr. Fortuno pushes the boundaries with glee.

This novel is a spellbinding page-turner whose protagonist, full of bravado and self-assuredness, lures the reader into confronting some of life’s most difficult questions with him. Readers who enjoyed Water for Elephants will find this novel intriguing and entertaining.