A wise, tender novel about a woman who doesn't feel at home on Earth, by the acclaimed author of Parakeet.
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 reaches for warmth and light. As a child, she recognizes that she is different; she also 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. But at a precarious moment, a beloved friend urges Adina to share her messages with the world. Is there a chance she is not alone?
A blazing novel of startling originality about the fragility and resilience of life in our universe, Marie-Helene Bertino’s Beautyland is a remarkable evocation of feeling in exile at home and introduces a gentle, unforgettable alien for our times.
About the Author
Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of Parakeet, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, and the story collection Safe as Houses. She was the 2017 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellow in Cork, Ireland. Her work has received the O. Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the Mississippi Review Story Prize, and fellowships from MacDowell, Sewanee, and New York City’s Center for Fiction, and has twice been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She teaches creative writing at New York University and Yale University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
“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!