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Monday, October 14, 2013

"Guests on Earth" by Lee Smith~ Living With Mental Illness & Zelda


It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental institution known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses the cascading events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them.

Author Lee Smith has created, through her artful blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart—a time and a place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, tragedy and transformation, are luminously intertwined.


  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 10/15/2013
  • Pages: 368
  •  Genre:  Fiction/Historical
  •  Author: Lee Smith
  •  Author Website:  http://www.leesmith.com


     has Lee Smith is the author of sixteen previous books of fiction, including the bestselling novels Fair and Tender Ladies and The Last Girls, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. Also the recipient of the 1999 Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina

    A video of Ms Smith discussing "Guests on Earth" can be seen on her website: http://www.leesmith.com


    Lee Smith is a perfectly engrossing author, and one who easily captures the heart and imagination in a folksy, down-in-your-heart way.  I've been fascinated with stories about Zelda Fitzgerald all summer long, as you know.  This novel by Ms Smith has a different twist as it's seeing Zelda through the eyes of a young girl throughout her life who is actually raised as an orphan in Ashville's Highland House sanatorium.  The really strong kicker of this book, however, is the extension of mini-vignettes of other patients at the hospital connected to the orphan, Evalina.

    The different characters' mental illnesses mesmerized me.  Their manifestations weren't always evident at first glance which made it even more intriguing.  The characters were respectfully and beautifully drawn.  In fact, this book will be so memorable in that respect to me.  Often mentally ill people aren't as kindly written or talked about, or even as well understood whether in literature or in the "outside" world.

    The showcase character of this book wasn't Zelda as I had expected.  While she popped up as a main figure at times, and she was always on the mind of the main character, Evalina, she wasn't the focus of the novel.  I found this not at all a problem.  It really didn't take away from the interest of the story, though when she was included, it was like salt to the whole and was a point of clarity that Zelda was only one of many who suffered from a mental disorder.

    The sections that told of Zelda and Fitzgerald and their intimate times observed were sweet and sorrowful, capturing the essence not only of their relationship, it seemed, but of so many relationships that flounder under the heavy blanket of the mental heartbreak.  I thought these were especially lovely passages.

    This is a book that flows easily from the pen of Lee Smith to our hearts.  I loved the many characters, the story it told and the hope it engenders about the future of those who suffer mental illness.  It spreads a good message that those who walk that path are special people who are just like anyone else, but who have to overcome injuries like many on earth do, as well.  It speaks to their courage as well as those injuries and flaws.

    I loved this book and hope many of you will be inspired to pick it up to read this year.

    5 stars                Deborah/TheBookishDame



    I didn't realize this book featured Zelda. It sounds terrific!

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