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White Oleander [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Janet Fitch , Oprah Winfrey
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (874 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 18 2006
Oprah Book Club-« Selection, May 1999: Astrid Magnussen, the teenage narrator of Janet Fitch's engrossing first novel, White Oleander, has a mother who is as sharp as a new knife. An uncompromising poet, Ingrid despises weakness and self-pity, telling her daughter that they are descendants of Vikings, savages who fought fiercely to survive. And when one of Ingrid's boyfriends abandons her, she illustrates her point, killing the man with the poison of oleander flowers. This leads to a life sentence in prison, leaving Astrid to teach herself the art of survival in a string of Los Angeles foster homes.As Astrid bumps from trailer park to tract house to Hollywood bungalow, White Oleander uncoils her existential anxieties. "Who was I, really?" she asks. "I was the sole occupant of my mother's totalitarian state, my own personal history rewritten to fit the story she was telling that day. There were so many missing pieces." Fitch adroitly leads Astrid down a path of sorting out her past and identity. In the process, this girl develops a wire-tight inner strength, gains her mother's white-blonde beauty, and achieves some measure of control over their relationship. Even from prison, Ingrid tries to mold her daughter. Foiling her, Astrid learns about tenderness from one foster mother and how to stand up for herself from another. Like the weather in Los Angeles--the winds of the Santa Anas, the scorching heat--Astrid's teenage life is intense. Fitch's novel deftly displays that, and also makes Astrid's life meaningful. --Katherine Anderson

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Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 1999: Astrid Magnussen, the teenage narrator of Janet Fitch's engrossing first novel, White Oleander, has a mother who is as sharp as a new knife. An uncompromising poet, Ingrid despises weakness and self-pity, telling her daughter that they are descendants of Vikings, savages who fought fiercely to survive. And when one of Ingrid's boyfriends abandons her, she illustrates her point, killing the man with the poison of oleander flowers. This leads to a life sentence in prison, leaving Astrid to teach herself the art of survival in a string of Los Angeles foster homes.

As Astrid bumps from trailer park to tract house to Hollywood bungalow, White Oleander uncoils her existential anxieties. "Who was I, really?" she asks. "I was the sole occupant of my mother's totalitarian state, my own personal history rewritten to fit the story she was telling that day. There were so many missing pieces." Fitch adroitly leads Astrid down a path of sorting out her past and identity. In the process, this girl develops a wire-tight inner strength, gains her mother's white-blonde beauty, and achieves some measure of control over their relationship. Even from prison, Ingrid tries to mold her daughter. Foiling her, Astrid learns about tenderness from one foster mother and how to stand up for herself from another. Like the weather in Los Angeles--the winds of the Santa Anas, the scorching heat--Astrid's teenage life is intense. Fitch's novel deftly displays that, and also makes Astrid's life meaningful. --Katherine Anderson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Thirteen-year-old Astrid Magnussen, the sensitive and heart-wrenching narrator of this impressive debut, is burdened with an impossible mother in Ingrid, a beautiful, gifted poet whose scattered life is governed by an enormous ego. When Ingrid goes to prison for murdering her ex-lover, Astrid enters the Los Angeles foster care program and is placed with a series of brilliantly characterized families. Astrid's first home is with Starr, a born-again former druggie, whose boyfriend, middle-aged Ray, encourages Astrid to paint (Astrid's absent father is an artist) and soon becomes her first lover, but who disappears when Starr's jealousy becomes violent. Astrid finds herself next at the mercy of a new, tyrannical foster mom, Marvel Turlock, who grows wrathful at the girl's envy of a sympathetic next-door prostitute's luxurious life. "Never hope to find people who will understand you," Ingrid archly advises as her daughter's Dickensian descent continues in the household of sadistic Amelia Ramos, where Astrid is reduced to pilfering food from garbage cans. Then she's off to the dream home of childless yuppies Claire and Ron Richards, who shower her with gifts, art lessons and the warmth she's been craving. But this new development piques Ingrid's jealousy, and Astrid, now 17 and a high school senior, falls into the clutches of the entrepreneurial Rena Grushenka. Amid Rena's flea-market wares, Astrid learns to fabricate junk art and blossoms as a sculptor. Meanwhile, Ingrid, poet-in-prison, becomes a feminist icon who now has a chance at freedomAif Astrid will agree to testify untruthfully at the trial. Astrid's difficult choice yields unexpected truths about her hidden past, and propels her already epic story forward, with genuinely surprising and wrenching twists. Fitch is a splendid stylist; her prose is graceful and witty; the dialogue, especially Astrid's distinctive utterances and loopy adages, has a seductive pull. This sensitive exploration of the mother-daughter terrain (sure to be compared to Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here) offers a convincing look at what Adrienne Rich has called "this womanly splitting of self," in a poignant, virtuosic, utterly captivating narrative. Reading group guide; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: An excerpt from the novel was selected as a notable story in Best American Short Stories 1994.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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THE SANTA ANAS blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Kali
Format:Paperback
This is yet another thrift shop book that cost less than a dollar but unlike my previous purchase of Philip Roth's "The Human Stain," White Orleander is a book of high literary merit that you want to read over and over again because it is so addictive, like the scent of the White Orleander, and it's vicious but beauteous scent.
White Orleander is about Mothers and daughters and the complex relationships we sometimes have with those we love but don't always like.
It's a book about life, death, survival and the redemption of the soul.
Astrid is the teenage daughter of Ingrid now in prison after murdering an ex-lover and Astrid finds herself at the Mercy of the Los Angeles foster care system that is both brutal and tender.
From her first teenage love affair with one of her foster mother's boyfriend's to her life in Berlin as a cynical but gifted young Artist we have driven through a life filled with tears, laughter, and the uncompromising brutality of the human experience.
Astrid is above all a survivor and she takes from her foster life experience a new way of thinking, of understanding those around her, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
For me the best part of the book was Astrid's artistry of life, along with her acute understanding of mother's selfish whims and desire to be "beautiful and wanted" by the world for her talents as a poet, even though she is languishing in jail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about change Jan. 24 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
White Oleander is like the poetry of Ingrid Magnussen: hauntingly beautiful and razor's-edge sharp. Like the book's namesake, White Oleander is seductive and poisonous. And it's a winner of a book. Mostly, though, it's about change.
Astrid begins the book as nothing but a reflection of who her mother projects her to be. Quiet, "flying under the radar", she is like the "clay that is happy in a good potter's hands", content to be molded and shaped every which way. It is only when she is no longer under her mother's wing - and spell - that she starts to grow up and become a real person of her own. The book is about Astrid's search for identity, and the people along the way who help her or hurt her or ultimately teach her lessons - usually the hard way - about life.
Sure, the abuse in the various foster homes borders on cliché... but it never quite gets there, because Janet Fitch has a gift for nuance. All her substitute mothers - Starr, Marvel, Amelia, Claire, Rena - would have been two-dimesional cardboard cutouts if written by some other author. But Fitch fleshes them out, makes them real.
In fact, the only static character in the book is Ingrid, and that is because she is intentionally so: a symbol more than a person. Astrid, in contrast to her mother, is dynamic, and this is why Ingrid seems to change throughout the book. She hasn't changed, but the way Astrid sees her has. At first, she is larger-than-life, hauntingly seductive, beautiful and mysterious. Gradually, as Astrid matures and begins to break away, Ingrid is revealed as selfish, manipulative, sociopathic and ultimately, small and insignificant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A TERRIFIC VOICE NARRATION Sept. 23 2006
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
Seldom has a debut novel had so much going for it - White Oleander became a bestseller, was made into a major motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn, was an Oprah pick and is now in audio book release read by none other than Oprah Winfrey.

Who would not recognize the voice? Low, husky, appealing. She's already shown her acting chops in the film The Color Purple, so it's little wonder that she delivers a terrific voice narration. She reads with telling inflection and feeling.

White Oleander is the story of Astrid, the daughter of a single mom, Ingrid, a mother so gorgeous that she thinks her beauty is a ticket to most anywhere or anything. That ticket is torn in half when Ingrid learns her lover has been unfaithful and she kills him. She's sentenced to life imprisonment, leaving Astrid to find her own way in the world through a string of foster homes.

Each house, Astrid learns, is very different; each foster parent unlike another. However, she proves to be resilient, as she copes, struggles and learns. Her saving grace may be her gift as an artist.

A high five for White Oleander - listen and enjoy!

- Gail Cooke
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5.0 out of 5 stars I truly recommend it June 21 2005
Format:Paperback
WHITE OLEANDER is the first and only book I have read from Oprah's celebrated book club.
While many have panned the book, I found a strange sort of desolate beauty and comfort in it. This is exactly what a good book should do. Draw you into it's story, weave you into the plot, and turn you out on the other end, questioning that which motivates you and makes you exist.
For me, the combination of Astrid (the main character), her tormented life, and the other-worldly beauty of Janet Fitch's writing style left me wanting more. More White Oleander and more out of life.
Books such as this draw the introspective spirit out of us and make us take long, hard looks at our lives. Astrid's misfortunes made me appreciate my health and success even more. Fitch's detailed and almost surreal prose made me stop and smell the roses.
This story is a painful one about the horrible circumstances of a child's life. Yes, it is extremely graphic in areas, and includes many scenarios which many of us would rather not read. That is where it's controversy lies.
But with these things aside, it is an excellent story. One in which you can't seem to put the book down, reading long into all hours of the night. Wishing that Astrid would find good fortune, but knowing that she will only find heartache.
My copy of White Oleander is beginning to show wear from the numerous friends I have lent it to. Some have liked it more than others. One couldn't read it at all.
Regardless, I give Janet Fitch and WHITE OLEANDER 5 stars, and congratulate Fitch on an excellent debut novel. Thanks also to the reviewer who recommended THE LOSERS' CLUB (Complete Restored Ed) by Richard Perez, another great book, which is also about a (poet) mother/child relationship of sorts. Another engaging, oddly compelling read that I can't stop thinking about.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
I bought this book used and it came in pristine condition. It's a fantastic read, and very difficult to put down. I highly recommend it!
Published 7 months ago by Farmgir
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
A good read that was well written. It was an easy book to put down and pick up where you left off.
Published 9 months ago by Steph
5.0 out of 5 stars White Oleander
I enjoy this book a lot. It touches a place close to home.As someone whose grown up in foster care it is an amazing story for me to read. One I can relate to on some level. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Melissa Dean
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, beautiful and disturbing
Excellent, descriptive and captivating writing about the life of a (disadvantaged) girl in California; disturbing regarding the foster home issues, violence, drugs. Read more
Published on July 21 2011 by Maja
5.0 out of 5 stars Handle Like Hendrix reviews White Oleander
I picked up WHITE OLEANDER after being entralled with the movie. I loved the movie--the atmosphere, the music and the acting. But the book? The book was even better. Read more
Published on June 22 2009 by C. Dey
5.0 out of 5 stars Bone white
WHITE OLEANDER is one heck of a read. It's a very lyrical novel about a young girl whose brilliant but mentally ill mother murders an ex-boyfriend and winds up in prison for life. Read more
Published on March 20 2007 by Agrippa
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
Loved this book. Hated the movie. I'm so glad I read the book first because if I had of watched the movie first I never would have even picked up the book.
Published on July 5 2006 by Amy
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written Book
White Oleander is a modern classic that I was able to really connect with. I couldn't put this book down and have not been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. Read more
Published on June 19 2006 by Katherine - Toronto
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Book-
I thought that White Oleander was a brilliant book (as was the film). The characters are unique and interesting, and the protaganist and narrator, Astrid, is thoughtful and... Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2004 by Add
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, yet awesome
I absolutly loved this book. A friend recommended it to me and I couldn't put it down. Not only is the writing very well done, but the detail illuminates the story but without... Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by Emily
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