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Book Review of "Booth" by Karen Joy Fowler

I am a homemaker, mother and a wife. I have a passion for books. I always like to know about different books and love to read them.

About the Author and the Book

An American author Karen Joy Fowler is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels and short story collections. Her novel “Sister Noon” was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Another of her novel, “The Jane Austen Book Club” was a New York Times bestseller. Most of her novels encircle the 19th century.

Her latest novel ‘Booth’ was first published in September 2022 in Great Britain by the publisher Serpent’s Tail. The novel is an epic and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2022. It is a historical novel and is based on the lives of the family members of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated the American President Abraham Lincoln.

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Storyline

In the year 1822, Junius Wilkes Booth, a Shakespearean actor and a bigamist father, who spends most of his time traveling, starts living in a cabin on the outskirts of Baltimore with his growing family. The family consists of Junius Booth, his children, and Mary Ann, the mother of the children. Mary Ann followed Junius Booth to America after a short courtship period. The father of Junius Booth also lives with them. Junius has kept some slaves on lease though he pays them their wages.

Mary Ann gives birth to a new child each year thereby giving birth to a total of ten children. Rosalie is the oldest daughter while Joseph or Joe is the youngest. Johnny or John Wikes Booth is the ninth child. Out of the ten children, four die of illnesses. The living ones who reach adulthood are Rosalie, Edwin, Asia, June, John, and Joe.

Rosalie is not having much say in the family matters and she is there to look after her younger siblings along with helping her mother with the household work. At times, she also sees the ghosts of her dead siblings. She remains single all her life.

Rosalie’s brother Edwin wants to become a famous actor just like his father. After the death of his father, he becomes a good actor and looks after the family but his father’s addiction to alcohol also passes to him.

Asia is beautiful and strong-minded. She gets married to her brother’s friend but is very loyal to her brother John. John is very dear to the family. He is always competing with his brother but has a lot of love for his sisters, especially Asia. He gets involved in the civil war by defending slavery and hating abolition. His views involve him in the civil war to such an extent that he assassinates President Abraham Lincoln.

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Apart from the ongoing story of the Booth family, there are also chapters of President Lincoln’s life and career with some of his speeches. Some of the stories of slaves are also incorporated into the novel.

Evaluation

Although the story of this book revolves around the family of the infamous John Wilkes Booth, he has always stayed in the background. The focus of the book is on the lives of the family members of the shooter rather than the shooter himself. Hence, for those who want to know more about John Wilkes Booth himself, the book is not for them.

The novel contains everything from grief, anger and frustration to action, poverty, success, failure, and politics. Though it is a dense family novel, the author has very intelligently entwined the situation of a wider society and the civil war in America. A small touch on the story of slaves also put a deep mark on the reader.

As it is a period novel and many people know about John Wilkes Booth, there are no twists and turns or surprise endings. The story has been told from the perspective of Rosalie, Asia, and Edwin. As per the time frame, men are shown as the dominating ones. However, all the characters are portrayed with emotional depth. The reader gets empathy for many of them especially Rosalie even though her character is the most fictional one as per the Author.

The book goes a bit slow. Those who have some knowledge of the American Civil War as well as those who like reading novels with a bit feelings and emotions may find the book more interesting. But those who like to read books with lots of dialogues, suspense, and action, may not like it and find it boring.

On the whole, the author has written the book after doing a lot of research thereby making it a good read.

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