The Astor Orphan

Alexandra Aldrich’s The Astor Orphan is a memoir about growing up in the American Aristocratic Astor family with the twist that although she lived a childhood in one of the oldest, largest homes Alexandra grew up in poverty. The mansion was falling apart, her parents never worked, her grandmother almost drank herself to death, and yet their pride of a great family remained.

While this book was interesting to see how the other half lived, I think in order to have a successful memoir, the author should have more insight into the circumstances that she’s writing about. Understandably, it would be difficult to grow up in a former prosperous family where her uncle and aunt seem to still be somewhat successful, Alexandra did not live the life of someone in actual poverty. For example, Alexandra tells that she may have had to figure out how to get enough food, but she and her mother travelled every year or so to Poland. She never discusses where this money came from to support this extravagance. Also, while she complains that she has to wear thrift store clothes, she tells of extraordinary hippie events that her father allowed to be hosted on the property. Alexandra complains that whenever her wealthy aunt came to visit, her grandmother would buy new bedding for her family, but this same aunt paid for her to go to a boarding school.

I understand that this story is told from a young girl’s perspective, but the years should have give Aldrich more insight into how her family’s life was able to remain as it did. Part of the problem is that she is self centered and thinks her part of this family’s story is the one that should have been told, but she’s the wrong point of view for this memoir. Every adult in this novel sounded much more interesting that the whining of a young girl, yet we don’t get the the nitty gritty behind their lives. Where does the grandmother get her money? How do they afford to travel to Eastern Europe enough for her to feel more of a connection with her Polish roots than the aristocratic family she lived with. Who the hell are the Astors? If you’re going to write a novel about how your once great family has fallen on hard times, don’t assume the reader has a clue who your family it…especially if your last name is not Astor.

Anyway, the memoir had some interesting tidbits of a fall from wealth, but it was told from the wrong perspective without enough details to make it a good read.

April 2013

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