Author: Elizabeth Letts Published: April 2019 Pages: 351 Rating: 5 stars
A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud–from the family’s hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland.
Elizabeth Letts re-imagines the magical story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We emerge into the hustle and bustle of the 1930’s Hollywood film set where a young Judy Garland is badgered and pressured by the production team and her mother. With alternating timelines, the narrative switches to the late 1800’s. We follow Maud’s upbringing as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of her and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people who would inspire his masterpiece.
What a magical story. I was fascinated by Oz’s creation. Maud’s mother, Matilda, taught her daughter to treasure education, her independence and to follow in her footsteps fighting for women’s rights. Maud conforms to her mother’s wishes until she meets Frank, a travelling theatre man. Their love story is enchanting. Despite her mother’s disapproval who regards Frank’s work as impractical, the young couple’s feelings for one another blossom. They are soon married and thus embark on a turbulent journey. Nonetheless, Frank’s relentless, whimsical imagination ensures that their life always sparkles with magic. His hope for a better life shines bright like Oz’s Emerald City.
The couple traipse in and out of various jobs; from working as a travelling salesman to opening a fantastical children’s toy store. It’s not until he created the masterpiece that is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that the Baum family earn the success they yearned for. It was a national sensation.
Fast-forward to 1939 Hollywood, widowed Maud befriends Judy Garland. She feels an instant connection to the young actress upon hearing her sing “Over the Rainbow”. Listening to the lyrics, she recalls the tough years in South Dakota when she and her husband struggled to make a living. From here, formidable Maud takes on the job of protecting young Judy and ensures the film stays true to her husband’s creation. Throughout production, the director and her own mother dictate that Judy takes diet pills and smokes dozens of cigarettes a day to tame her hunger. They even slap her when she can’t suppress her giggles on set. I was ashamed upon learning how much her mother encouraged this maltreatment. The maltreatment which lead Garland to an unfortunate life of drugs and addiction.
Furthermore, there is no denying that Letts’ story is meticulously researched. Her vividly descriptive storytelling swept me away to Hollywood and the late 1800s. Yes, this is a work of fiction, but her story is based on historically true events. Learning about the hardships Frank faced before his national success made the story even more enthralling. Maud’s capability to always see the silver-lining is admirable. She has faith in her husband no matter how absurd his whimsical ideas are.
Overall, Finding Dorothy was a charming book which all fans of the movie will enjoy. Letts has created a beautiful tribute to the man behind the masterpiece, the man who invented a wonderland where children can escape to. This novel is sprinkled with fascinating stories and insights into the lives of the Baum family and those on the set of the iconic film. I know the magic of its pages will stay with me long after having read this.
Thanks to Quercus Books for sending me a hardback copy in exchange for an honest review!
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