Synopses & Reviews
Bartholomew Fortuno, the Worlds Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P.T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays and live performances by Barnums cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his contentment flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the Museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer—Fortunos curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upsidedown. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really
? And why has she taken such a hold of the hearts of those around her?
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novelabout human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique— and the power of love to transcend even the greatest divisions.
About the Author
ELLEN BRYSON holds a BA in English from Columbia University and an MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Formerly a modern dancer, she lives in Southern California. This is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. Bartholomew believes he has a gift in his natural thinness and self-control. What other gifts does he possess? How would you characterize him? How does his character change from the beginning of the novel to the end?
2. What kinds of hunger are stirred in this book? Which characters are driven to extremes by their desire and which choose to moderate themselves?
3. Bartholomew Fortuno asserts, “[Our] destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but, deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities.” Iell argues, “I do not believe we educate our audiences. I believe we enlighten them and, in doing so, make them feel better about the dullness of their own lives. We dont open their eyes, Mr. Fortuno, we give them permission to keep them shut.” Do you believe spectacles like Barnums American Museum serve to open our eyes to new experiences, or to make us feel better about ourselves by comparison?
4. Before the answer is revealed, what did you suspect was Iells secret?
5. When does Bartholomews love for Iell twist from romantic to obsessive? At what moment did you realize he was an unreliable narrator?
6. Bridgett is a well-known Gaff, but her performance is so impressive that the other characters begin to forget her former life as a barmaid. Are there other characters who seem to be faking it? Do you believe Bartholomew is a Gaff?
7. What is the importance of the setting in this novel? Is there anything about historical New York City that surprised you—the smell, the streets, the layout?
8. When Iell sends Bartholomew off to the Chinaman, she says, “Youre the only one I trust.” Do you think this is sincere, or do you think she is taking advantage of his affections? Do you believe his feelings are ever reciprocated?
9. While Bartholomew longs to be home in the museum, other characters say they feel trapped inside. Does this serve as a place of protection or imprisonment? Are the characters creating a world of magic or a space to hide? What is the significance of the birds in this novel?
10. If you could travel back to the American Museum, which character would you most like to see Why?
11. You never get the chance to see a photograph of Barnums “freaks” as you read Transformation, though the prose provides a vivid description of each. Do you think you would respond differently to this story as a film? Do you believe you listen to stories differently when you cannot see the subjects face? Were you tempted to look up Mathew Bradys photographs as you read the book, or did you wish to rely on your own imagination?