by Marie-Helene Bertino
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Pub Date 16 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 29 Feb 2024
A Must-Read: Nylon, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, Kirkus Reviews, BookRiot, The Christian Science Monitor, Our Culture, The Saturday Evening Post
“A monumental accomplishment, a shimmering masterpiece from an author with talent to spare.”
—Michael Schaub, The Boston Globe
From the acclaimed author of Parakeet, Marie-Helene Bertino’s Beautyland is a wise, tender novel about a woman who doesn't feel at home on Earth.
At the moment when Voyager 1 is launched into space carrying its famous golden record, a baby of unusual perception is born to a single mother in Philadelphia. Adina Giorno is tiny and jaundiced, but she reaches for warmth and light. As a child, she recognizes that she is different: She possesses knowledge of a faraway planet. The arrival of a fax machine enables her to contact her extraterrestrial relatives, beings who have sent her to report on the oddities of Earthlings.
For years, as she moves through the world and makes a life for herself among humans, she dispatches transmissions on the terrors and surprising joys of their existence. Then, at a precarious moment, a beloved friend urges Adina to share her messages with the world. Is there a chance she is not alone?
Marie-Helene Bertino’s Beautyland is a novel of startling originality about the fragility and resilience of life on our Earth and in our universe. It is a remarkable evocation of the feeling of being in exile at home, and it introduces a gentle, unforgettable alien for our times.
A Note From the Publisher
★ “The triumphant latest from [Marie-Helene] Bertino offers a wryly comic critique of social conventions from the perspective of a woman who also happens to be an alien from another planet . . . Bertino nimbly portrays her protagonist’s alienhood as both metaphor and reality. The results are divine.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In Beautyland, Marie-Helene Bertino’s Adina (maybe an alien, maybe a troubled human, always both) takes the tired old world and describes it so perfectly that we see it as if for the first time. Sparkling and alive, funny and magnificently true, this book woke me up. It made me weep with appreciation for the hard, strange, small-but-huge lives we lead. It made me fall back in love with this universe.” —Ramona Ausubel, author of The Last Animal
“Beautyland is both an otherworldly and completely human look into one girl’s life, written in concise, lyrical prose. It is richly allusive, funny, and hypersmart. Marie-Helene Bertino has knocked it out of the park with this one. I loved it.” —Brandon Hobson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Removed
“This book is endlessly surprising on the sentence level, but also as a story, and also in its tenderness. We might all need the unexpected love and perspective of a child alien at this point in human history. Beautyland is beautiful and hilarious and transcendent. It honestly feels like a message from another planet. Marie-Helene Bertino is an otherworldly talent.” —Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of There There
“Marie-Helene Bertino’s delicious, uncanny vision throughout Beautyland makes everything feel brand-new—a roller coaster is ‘a series of problems on a steel track,’ chardonnay smells like ‘pee and flowers,’ death is ‘merely a diminishment of one perspective.’ Bertino’s strangering prose delights with baffle and surprise, and the chapters are so propulsive one doesn’t even fully notice the way she’s subtly deconstructing the world. One page swiftly returns ubiquity to wonder, while the next reminds us that cruelty is a choice, that nothing is inevitable but death. It’s impossible for a book to feel this fun and this urgent. Beautyland is a miracle. I’ll be re-reading it forever.” —Kaveh Akbar, author of Martyr!
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 44 members
Wow - Beautyland is a tour de force. It is a hilarious, poignant, and surprising novel. The writing is stunning, and I am in awe of the author’s talent.
Adina spends most of her time faxing observations of her life on earth to her superiors on her faraway home planet. But is she really an alien or a person trying to make the best of her surroundings? Whatever the case, Adina is incredibly lovable and her observations alternated in cracking me up and breaking my heart. Truly a book that reminded me of why I love reading. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a moving, smart, and thought-provoking read.
Thank you very much to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this wonderful story.
Gosh, she's done it again! Marie-Helene Bertino's previous novel "Parakeet" was released in the depths of summer 2020, when authors couldn't go on book tours to promote their novels and we all sat through a lot of Zoom interviews. It was total serendipity that I read an early 2021 Lithub interview with Ted Dodson wherein the interviewer asked "What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?" and he mentioned Parakeet (really cute interview that I recommend reading - disclaimer: Ted is MHB's partner). Needless to say I rushed out to purchase Parakeet and was absolutely wowed, leading me to pick up this book for several bookish friends and continue recommending it just about anytime I was prompted for a suggestion.
It's with that unbridled enthusiasm for the author that I learned Beautyland was coming soon (January 2024) and I was lucky enough to read an ARC thanks to NetGalley and Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Beautyland is such a warm and loamy novel with big heart. The protagonist Adina feels everything so deeply, just like the most sensitive people, despite being an alien sent by her superiors to report on the human condition. In addition to being tender, Adina is also funny in her observations: "When it was time to decide the official food of movie-watching, human beings did not go for fig Newtons or caramel, foods that are silent, but popcorn, the loudest sound on earth" or "Why are there two words (thaw and dethaw) for what you do to a frozen chicken and only one for missing your best friend?"
She's keenly aware of how she needs to lie low to fit in, for pop culture has showed her "what humans do to extraterrestrials in film and television. Americans, especially those who live in suburbs, cannot be trusted," citing E.T., Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Small Wonder and ALF. Adina is a child of the 1980s, after all!
We follow Adina through her school years as she learns how to be a teenager with its cliques and betrayals, an adult who holds down a job, a woman who experiences love and loss. I was not ready for the book to end. There's a tenderness to the way Adina moves through life and observes what many of us chugging along take for granted or don't even remark on. I'm so excited for January 2024 when I can pick up a hard copy of Beautyland and go through the rollercoaster or laughter and tears all over again. Simply one of my top reads in recent memory!
It’s 9pm and I am going to bed, until I convince myself that I’m not sleepy yet and I should stay up until 10 to keep reading Beautyland because I’ve had a hard time putting it down all day. Then it’s 10:30 and I’m about to turn the lights off when I think, well, what’s the harm of another 15 minutes at this point?
Now it’s midnight and I’m crying sideways, sobbing so hard it’s difficult to breathe and tears are streaming from my right eye into my left.
Beautyland was addicting from the start, it felt so fresh and fun while riding this undercurrent of tension that kept me completely engrossed. With a good sense of humor and well-developed characters, this was poignant and beautifully written. I absolutely loved it, even though I have to try to fall asleep now with a wrecked heart.
I am really struggling to find the words to describe how I feel after reading this book. I wish Adina was here to put my thoughts and feelings into the perfect sentence.
Adina is an alien who communicates with her planet via a fax machine. Although this is not a science fiction book, it kind of sounds like it is. BUT IT ISNT!
I felt like it could be construed as "Adina is a literal alien" or "Adina feels alien in the world" and both work for me. I found this book to be so thoughtful about humanhood. Is humanhood a word? It doesn't matter. I could have highlighted 90% of this book but instead I will go back and read it at another time.
Towards the end of the book, Adina appeared more human than ever before when she was dealing with a very human emotion. I felt her pain so deep. I am still struggling with my emotions from this book.
This is the first book I have read by this author and I am definitely a fan of hers now. I also read the authors note which was also very touching.
Thank you to the author, publisher, and netgalley for my advanced copy!