Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story, by Peter Zheutlin {ends 8/4, three winners!}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There are two versions, well many more, really, but two principal ones, of how I reached the eastern shores of China and then Japan from Marseille, and I told both of them, sometimes to different reporters on the same day in the same city, depending on how much time I had and what struck my fancy in the moment. There was the long story and the short one, but in truth the longer one was conjured during the shorter one. I can tell you this: I sailed from Marseille on the twentieth of January 1895, and arrived in Yokohama in early March of that year.

For those paying attention, this was a remarkably fast passage for a woman supposedly riding a bicycle across Europe, through Persia, Palestine, South Asia, and China, but it was filled with adventure. The ride from Bombay to Calcutta was made miserable by insects. I hitched myself to a royal hunting party and spent three days pursuing the great Bengal tiger. In the hinterlands of Asia, where many had never seen a bicycle, I was mistaken for a flying squirrel, an evil spirit, or, on one occasion, a visitor from Mars. Many times my life was in mortal danger, my escapes always narrow, and my courage, and my spirits always high.

When Mrs. Kopchovsky has a chance to see the world, and leave behind the drudgery of motherhood and housekeeping, she barely bats an eye before packing her bags and becoming the adventurous Annie Londonderry.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story, by Peter Zheutlin {ends 8/4, three winners!}
Who was Annie Londonderry? She captured the popular imagination with her daring ‘round the world trip on two wheels. It was, declared The New York World in October of 1895, “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.”

But beyond the headlines, Londonderry was really Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young, Jewish mother of three small children, who climbed onto a 42-pound Columbia bicycle and pedaled away into history.

Reportedly set in motion by a wager between two wealthy Boston merchants, the bet required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months, but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman’s physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself in the world.

Often attired in a man’s riding suit, Annie turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its head. Not only did she abandon, temporarily, her role of wife and mother (scandalous in the 1890s), she earned her way selling photographs of herself, appearing as an attraction in stores, and by turning herself into a mobile billboard.

Zheutlin, a descendent of Annie, brilliantly probes the inner life and seeming boundless courage of this outlandish, brash, and charismatic woman. In a time when women could not vote and few worked outside the home, Annie was a master of public relations, a consummate self-promoter, and a skillful creator of her own myth. Yet, for more than a century her remarkable story was lost to history. In SPIN, this remarkable heroine and her marvelous, stranger-than-fiction story is vividly brought to life for a new generation.

While inspired by a true story, the character of Annie Londonderry in this story sounds like she may be flattered for you to find her version of events to be unbelievable. Her goal was not only to make it around the world and be awarded the cash prize, but to build a story she could really run with to fame and fortune. She wanted to be so much more than a wife and mother.

It was her unwillingness to be just an average 1890s woman that got her into this unique situation. She originally heard about the wager and potential adventure and prize at one of the shops where she sold newspaper ads. Not many husbands of the time would have allowed their wife to hold her own job outside the home as Mrs. Kopchovsky did.

It wasn’t just her gender that put her at a disadvantage—even those willing to bet on a woman’s ability or lack thereof to navigate the world independently still wouldn’t sponsor a woman of Jewish background to do the same. That was why even her name was required to be changed before her adventure and recognition began.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d be somewhat curious how it compares to the author’s non-fiction of the same subject. Annie Londonderry’s narration of her real and imagined adventures grew a bit tedious in the exaggeration at times, but that’s almost certainly exactly the way a woman would need to be to push her way through a world that cleared no path for her at the time. This would be a great book for someone who enjoys historical adventure stories, and reading about steps toward womens’ rights.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a modern-day wife, mother, and employee. While she can see why an escape may be nice sometimes, she can’t imagine the energy it would require to take on a new life. See her real life in pictures from time to time on Instagram as PoshBecki.


Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Spin!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, August 4th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Spin, by Peter Zheutlin


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