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A well-written fictional account of a young woman’s unwarranted imprisonment at Blackwell Women’s Lunatic Asylum in 1881. Told from the point-of-view of Klara Gelfman, a Russian Jew fleeing the progrom, she is thrown into the asylum after she was robbed and assaulted. Not being able to speak English, the story follows her incarceration and shows the brutal treatment the women endured. Many of them were not insane, but simply inconvenient or a threat to a man in power. But hope arrives in the form of the journalist, Nellie Bly.
There are some tough parts to read, so please note the sexual assault trigger alert, but well worth the read.
17 September 2018
16 September 2018
Yet Klara takes refuge from the terror in the memories of her family and home and gradually discovers that the broken fellow inmates have their own ways to survive and to help each other.
She is fortunate. An undercover journalist – a character based on a real person – gains access to the asylum…is herself maltreated…and the solids hit the fan….the asylum is reformed, the abuses ended.
Klara is released and finds happiness, able to celebrate the good rather than live the evil of her experiences.
Paulette Mahurin does her research well, but is so good a writer that you are borne along on the story she relates, learning almost unconsciously about the period of which she writes.
Though the issues she deals with are dark, in her books the human heart always triumphs.
A Different Kind of Angel is a special book, the best written by Paulette Mahurin to date. As ever, the author places emotion on every page and sets her characters in an authentic historical setting. Her greatest gift, however, is to hold a mirror up to society and through her skilful storytelling invite us to reflect on what we see, in the past, the present and our vision for the future.
There is pain and suffering in this story, but there is also hope. Paulette Mahurin’s central characters always walk with a sense of dignity and display the best of humanity. Monsters walk around in all aspects of society, often in positions of power, but Paulette Mahurin’s characters demonstrate that those who suffer and endure are far bigger people than the powerbrokers. They are the people our futures depend on because they carry with them a sense decency and hope.
Fittingly, a story set in an asylum is ultimately about the power of the mind. The mind can be your worst enemy or your best friend. I urge you to read this book because you take a lot from it; A Different Kind of Angel is far more than just a spellbinding story.
12 September 2018
Reading a book by Paulette Mahurin is always an emotional experience. There are times in the middle of the story when it seems impossible to go on, so terrible are the events she relates with an empathetic intensity that turns your heart inside out. But the ending always justifies the effort, leaving you not weighed down by despair, but inspired by a feeling of hope. All the author’s novels, based on true events, re-affirm her conviction that even when humanity breaks down to its lowest level, the human spirit can still soar
This is a writer who is not afraid to tackle big subjects. Prejudice, antisemitism, slavery – Mahurin takes up arms on behalf of those who have suffered intolerance and adversity. A Different Kind of Angel is the story of 20-year-old Klara Gelfman, who escapes from the terrible pogrom of 1881 Kiev only to find herself imprisoned on arriving in the Land of the Free. Her sin? Being robbed, beaten up and left in the gutter with no way to explain to the authorities what has happened, for Klara does not speak English. So begins the terrible account of her five-year incarceration in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
Mahurin tells us that the Klara of the novel is a ‘fictitious composite’ inspired by the collective stories of the 1,500 women who found themselves in this concrete fortress and whose plight was made public thanks in part to the efforts of a real-life reporter, Elizabeth Cochran, who met the real-life Klara Gelfman while on an undercover assignment inside the Asylum. The harrowing conditions–inmates are routinely starved, beaten, humiliated, brutalised and sexually abused–are brought to life by the author’s skilful pen. The wealth of detail is as vivid, as full of impact as that in a Brueghel painting; the dramatic build-up to each climactic scene almost unbearable.
But though Klara will abandon hope, touch bottom, feel she can no longer continue, she does survive, she does endure, partly through the application of her own intelligence, partly through the discovery of unexpected emotional connections with her fellow-sufferers.
Forced to sit motionless on a wooden bench along with other patients for hours at a time she remembers her father’s admonition that her mind is her best friend. She escapes into a world of imagination where the filthy stains disfiguring the prison house become marvellous flowers. Lying sleepless in the freezing dormitory while patients rant and rave and nurses and guards terrorise and abuse, she remembers what counted in her past life, the freshness and beauty of the Kiev springtime, the warmth of familial bonds, the value of simple things. She learns that ‘cruelty isn’t limited to any one category of person.’ but can, shockingly, exist in those we expect to be most nurturing; while, among the damaged, demented creatures who so terrify her when she first arrives, she discovers not only a true friend, but also ‘different kinds of angels’, all unique, with whom she is able to forge tender bonds, nurture connections vital for the fulfilment of our basic human longings: ‘to belong, to feel safe, to trust and to be understood.’
‘These simple connections ignited the resilience my soul had all but lost.’
Another wonderful, moving novel of courage and fortitude from this highly-acclaimed author.