The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb A Novel By Nicholas Rinaldi

An irresistible novel set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and based on the real life of Tom Thumb, a young man only twenty-five inches tall, who became America’s first internationally recognized entertainer. By a writer whose previous work has been called “sprawling and elegant” (The New York Times Book Review), this novel weaves together a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life during the Civil War and a moving tale of one misfit’s odyssey to find his place in the world. Discovered at age four by P.T. Barnum, Tom Thumb soon finds himself traveling internationally, sitting on the laps of the queens of Europe, and entertaining the masses. He meets Czar Nicholas and the King of Saxony, and is invited to the Tuilleries by Louis Philippe. After marrying Lavinia Warren, Tom and wife are hosted at the White House by President Lincoln. With the country at war, Tom and Lavinia set out on their honeymoon tour and witness firsthand the fracture between the states, the heroism of young soldiers, and the unbreakable spirit of the American people. Written in a voice that is both witty and lyrical, and with a colorful secondary cast including Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, P.T. Barnum, and notable figures of the period, this is an evocative, poignant imagining of one man’s story at a unique moment in American history.
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  PROLOGUE LIFE IS A ROAD Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself. . . .Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. . . . —Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass  Long before the war started, it was already there, breathing, rumbling, hidden. It was in the clouds, in the rush of the rivers and in the rain, in the way people talked, the things they said and didn’t say. The worry, the awareness that things were wrong and getting worse.I remember my father saying there was no easy answer, there would be a war and a lot of killing. He looked me in the eye. “And aren’t you glad, Charlie, that you’re a tiny runt of a dwarf and won’t have to carry a gun and fight.” It wasn’t a question, it was a casual observation that he left hanging in the air. And it made me miserable because even then, young as I was, I didn’t like the idea of being left out of anything, espe-cially this wild, strange thing my father was talking about, filled with smoke and thunder and charging horses.But the war hung back, biding its time. It whispered, it murmured.  And maybe, I thought—maybe it would change its mind and go home  2 NICHOLAS RINALDI to wherever it came from. But that was a big maybe, so big you could  walk around inside it, and there was no place to hide.I had been a large baby, nine pounds two ounces. My mother never tired of telling me that. After half a year, I measured twenty-five inches, head to feet—but afterward, nothing. I was twenty-five inches tall, and  was stuck at that height until I was fifteen years old. Then I was grow-ing again, but slowly, an inch a year, sometimes less.It used to bother me, the way my mother was always saying I’d been a big, healthy baby. In part, I think, she was letting me know I had given her a hard time when I was born. But there was something else, too, which I eventually understood. She wanted me to know there  was nothing wrong with me at birth. She had delivered me in perfect condition—normal, not a dwarf—and if, after six months, I suddenly stopped growing, it wasn’t her fault, it was mine.That may, in fact, have been the way it was: a secret willfulness deep inside me, invisible even to myself. A decision to be different. Not a conscious choice made on a certain day, but something written in my bones. And the irony is that my smallness was not the curse my parents first thought it was, but a blessing, for them and for me. Though I have, of late, come to understand that blessings, like gift horses, may come  with a bad set of teeth.I spent my first years in a small house on a narrow street, and have vivid memories of my two sisters, both older than I. They used to run around the house in their flimsy cotton shifts, or in nothing at all, throw-ing pillows at me. They would grab my arms and swing me back and forth, then toss me in the air and bounce me on the bed. I liked that.They taught me my ABCs, and I watched as they wove their hair into long braids that they piled high on their heads. In their best Sun-day clothes, their dark red satins, they were the prettiest girls in the   THE REMARKABLE COURTSHIP OF GENERAL TOM THUMB 3 neighborhood. I have pictures of them, pasted in a large book of photo-graphs that I keep. Pictures of my parents, pictures of Barnum, pictures of Queen Victoria, Louis Philippe, Lincoln, Queen Isabella, and too many others. Pictures of pictures. Memory is a barbed hook. No matter how you struggle, you never get free.I was four years old when Barnum discovered me, and soon to turn five when I first appeared on the big stage at his American Museum. Barnum told the world I was eleven, lest anyone imagine I was just an undernourished slow grower and not an authentic dwarf. And, on the theory that an English dwarf would be of more interest to Americans than a homegrown dwarf from Connecticut, he announced that I was English-born and had just arrived from London.My mother was furious. Bad enough that he lied about my age and changed my name to Tom Thumb, but it was nothing less than outra-geous to declare that I was English-born, and to print it on a poster. Since my mother had never set foot in England, it was tantamount to saying she wasn’t my mother!She fumed and fussed so much that Barnum offered to tear up the contract and let her take me home to Connecticut—a quick end to my career before it even started. But no, not for the world was she going to let such a thing happen, and Barnum must have known that all along.My first performance was in the Christmas pageant, which ran for three weeks. Mary Darling, the house magician, played the Holy Mother, and the Bearded Lady was Joseph. I was the Infant in the man-ger. A few janitors with strong singing voices were the shepherds. Sheep  were the sheep, and a camel was the camel. After “Silent Night” and a few other carols, I leaped out of the manger and performed my whirl-ing, churning, acrobatic breakdown dance. Then I hopped back into the manger and listened to the bone-rocking, spine-tingling, ego-building
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