Keeping Up with the Times

The Newton-based author of The Red Tent returns with a decades-spanning saga.


The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Published by Scribner, 336 pages, $26

Anita Diamant’s fifth novel follows Addie, the Boston-born daughter of Jewish immigrants, who enters the world in 1900, bearing zest. The century unrolls under her feet, one of which stands in her parents’ cautious, circumscribed world while the other dances toward new opportunities.

Venturing from her cramped North End tenement, the bright-eyed Addie visits a settlement house, discovering books and kindred spirits, before sneaking off to Rockport for more liberating adventure among mansions and nature. Emerging feminist aspirations are everywhere. So are outrages that would later be called oppression—unwelcome pawings and abuse from men, shame and injury from an illicit abortion, constraints on career options that slowly creak open. There are tragedies, too, from the hideous 1918 flu to the deaths of children and a relative’s suicide. But Diamant’s spirited storytelling bubbles with lively dialogue and characters—Addie’s ever-sour mother, her introverted father, two older sisters with struggles of their own and the city of Boston itself, shown evolving till 1985.

Addie’s ambitions take her from factory work to newspaper writing, where she rises above frivolous society gossip and begins to espouse causes that feel increasingly modern. And when love comes along, finally, it’s with the kind-hearted Aaron, whose work against child labor makes him just her kind of guy.

From page 143:  I felt like I was skating on a pond that wasn’t frozen all the way through and if anyone asked me, “How’s the family?” the ice would break.
People kept saying, “Life goes on.” Sometimes that sounded like a wish and sometimes it felt like an order. I wanted to scream, “Life goes on? Not for everyone, it doesn’t.”

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