Reviews for Ellen Bryson’s

“The characters in this amazing debut novel are freaks -- literally -- and they are charming...”

StarTribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

“Ellen Bryson's novel "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" creates a fantastic mood of claustrophobia. Her characters patrol the hallways of the museum, haunting its arboretums, lecture halls, menageries and aquariums, creeping among its waxworks, scientific-ish dioramas and oddball memorabilia....Bryson's novel explores the shifting grounds between performer and audience, interior and exterior, anomaly and normal. What does it mean to be a freak? Where does freakishness begin?..."The Transformation" dynamically carries us back to a time before naivete was crippled under industrialism and suckers were born every minute. Borrowing a bit of Barnum's flame, Bryson has made her own hall of curved mirrors.”

—Samantha Hunt, author of The Invention of Everything Else, in The Washington Post

“Bryson’s writing invites readers directly onto the showroom floor with her apt descriptions of the culture surrounding the Museum life. She’s done her digging—and it’s clear in her detailed portrait of the complexities and conflicts of a life behind glass. This is an apropos end-of-summer pick for the historian and/or the endlessly curious. Whether or not they’re familiar with Barnum and his enterprise, readers will find much to appreciate in this story about the life-transforming power of love. ”


“Bryson is a natural storyteller, and the interpersonal dynamics of her enticing characters keeps readers' interest.”

—Library Journal

“Bryson brings the circus mentality to vivid life in her descriptions of Barnum's Museum. But instead of zeroing in on the spectacular, she focuses on the human drama of her unusual characters....The transformation of the title refers to both a physical and psychological one, and a surprise ending reveals hidden truths that help complete the changes in the stick-man. Although the climax of the story is eye-popping, getting there is slow. Luckily, the exotic circumstances of the characters will hold the reader's attention.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Amid this broader world still rich with magic, Bryson plucks readers' curiosities to probe timeless questions: What happens when we suppress our appetites? What do we sacrifice to belong? What is lost when we hide?”

Miami Herald

“Debut novel deserves to catch fire with readers. Bryson’s characters are extremely well defined and the slighted stilted cadence of their language spot-on for the 19th century. So are her details, which permeate the book with clothing, architecture, food and culture that pinpoint this time and the kinds of people who lived during it. If you love historical fiction, this book will not disappoint. But if you’re just looking for a fine novel full of distinctive characters, “The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno” will provide hours of entertainment.”

Cape Cod Book Reviews

“A man living among the oddest specimens of humanity questions his inner desires. It must have been something, America at the end of the Civil War, and debut novelist Bryson imagines it beautifully in her inspired drama about freaks, showmen and the forces that twist our insides… A rich tapestry of romance, illusory science, criminal trickery and human intrigue. Let the show begin.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This work sympathetically conjures up the backstage world of Barnum’s museum and the pecking order of his Curiosities, and magically transports the reader back in time to Gilded Age New York. Fans of Water for Elephants are sure to want to enter this wondrous midway attraction of a novel.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Ellen Bryson has found a doozy of a story to tell, and she tells the hell out of it. Earnest, accurate, entertaining—this book lets us peek into the life of a great circus, and the great circus of life itself.”

—Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You and Chang and Eng

“Ellen Bryson’s The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is an atmospheric and enthralling story of one of the great, lost legends of New York.”

—Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row and Dreamland

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno brings alive the curious world of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in 19th century New York, transforming in the process the freaks and prodigies into heart-breaking people. Bryson is bedazzling, a real writer of extraordinary bravado.”

—Keith Donohue, author of Angels of Destruction and The Stolen Child

“Fans of Water for Elephants will adore The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, Ellen Bryson's tender, humane novel about the transformative power of love.”

—Lisa Tucker, author of Once Upon a Day and The Promised World

“Ellen Bryson is a truly gifted storyteller whose debut novel transports the reader through time and into history itself, into characters with strange bodies but all-too-human hearts. I was hooked by every act, all the way to the novel’s big reveal. Like Barnum’s museum, this book deserves a plethora of visitors looking for educational entertainment.”

—Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter

“I cannot remember another first novel as deftly written, as emotionally charged, as transporting as this one. Ellen Bryson's breathtaking debut makes us all believe anew in the power of love.”

—Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle

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