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Usha Raman

One of the things about travel is that it affords the opportunity to read–especially when one is on a plane without a personal video screen and movies on demand! A couple of weeks ago on one such flight I started a book that I had received as a birthday present and managed to finish it before my return flight three days later. “The story of beautiful girl” by Rachel Simon (Random House, 2011) was a book that I might not have picked up on my own. I would have wondered about the missing article in the title, and dismissed it. Teaches one not to judge a book and all that. I was pleasantly surprised.

The book begins with a cliche–a woman standing at her door watching the rain fall in sheets while a woman is dragged away by some men who appear to be security guards. And the sort of line you tell beginning writers to never use–“The November day had seemed as ordinary as any….”

But I stuck with it, and, as I said, I continued to be surprised, and drawn further into the story even though I had to keep myself from cringing at some awkward prose. The story takes one into the lives of two young differently abled people and an elderly widow, and spans four decades, from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. Apart from offering a remarkable tale of resistance to what we now recognize as the brutality of homes for the “mentally deficient” and “feeble minded”, the book also outlines the history of the disability rights movement in the United States.

“Beautiful Girl” is the name given by her hearing-impaired lover to a young woman with moderate cognitive and speech impairment who has been admitted to such a home and subsequently forgotten by her family. The two meet in the Home and an unlikely romance blossoms. They run away, she is caught and taken back, and he disappears. There is a child, not his, but hers, the outcome of rape in the institution they call “the school”. The baby is left with the widow, and the rest of the story takes us on a journey that confronts bigotry and cruelties of various hues, but ultimately, there is hope and rediscovery.

While it is not the best written novel I’ve read, it certainly keeps one going. Not a bad read for a plane journey.