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White Oleander: A Novel Paperback – May 1 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Mti edition (May 1 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316284955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316284950
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.4 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (878 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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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First Sentence
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

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kali on May 10 2004
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 By A Customer on Jan. 24 2006
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kate on Nov. 15 2003
Format: Paperback
I thought this book had a lot of potential, despite the obvious drawback of it being an Oprah's Book Club pick. I caught the beginning of the movie on HBO right before going to a used book shop, so when I saw the novel on the store shelves, I decided to give it a try. It started off well -- Astrid is a teenager in California who is shipped off to foster homes after her mother is arrested for murder. As we follow old Astrid from place to place we hear about how horrible her mother is and how she tries to control Astrid's life and take things away from her (such as love from others) all from behind bars. Everyone loves her mother, who is apparently this wonderful poet, and nobody seems to realize that she is an evil, evil woman, according to Astrid. Is Mommy Murderer really evil? Well, I don't know, because after Astrid left the Richards' foster home I just lost interest. I skimmed ahead to get the general idea of what happens at the end, but I just think that the book could have accomplished whatever it wanted to accomplish in way less than 450+ pages. Also, the author seemed to try too hard to use words in a special flowery beautiful way and it didn't work. Didn't really fit the book, I guess. Overall, the book was okay, but it just got boring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Oct. 27 2002
Format: Paperback
I thought this book was a bit drawn out. Very long, but with a good soul, unfortunaely the book was in my opinion not written very well, too much stuff that didn't really matter and made the book quite boring, i couldn't wait for it to be over.
It was interesting, a very good story, just not well put together, id say just watch the movie, but for those who must know every detail, i guess the book is the way to go, just be careful what you ask for, because when you get halfway into the book you will be asking yourself, when will this thing ever end.
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