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The Astor Orphan: A Memoir    by Alexandra Aldrich order for
Astor Orphan
by Alexandra Aldrich
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2013 (2013)

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Many of us believe that being born into an aristocratic and wealthy family automatically means a charmed life with everything you could ever want at your fingertips. The world would be your oyster. Not so!

A direct descendant of John Jacob Astor and Robert Livingston, Alexandra Aldrich lived a life far removed from the gracious and luxurious existence of the previous tenants at Rokeby, the 43-room family mansion in the Hudson Valley. Her father served as a handyman with no salary, in exchange for room and board for himself and his family on the third floor of the rambling and run-down house inherited through the years by various branches of the Astors and Livingstons.

The wealth that once surrounded the sprawling family had dissipated since the time of John Jacob Astor. The money passed from generation to generation through the hands of those unequipped to handle it. As a result, Alexandra and her family lived as hangers-on in the decaying old home, once a thriving family center.

Her father, Teddy (a man unable to say no) invited those down on their luck to stay in the manse or in outbuildings until they could manage to handle their own lives again. Alexandra never knew who would be living on their third floor or eating the food that could barely cover the needs of her family. She suffered from the taunts and jeers of her peers in school and at social events. Her main obsession was to move on from her dysfunctional family and make her own way in the world.

Things really fell apart when a mysterious French woman named Giselle moved into Rokeby at Teddy's gallant invitation. It was never to be the same.

The Astor Orphan is a sad story of a poor-little-rich girl. Her well-educated father was very happy riding on the estate's tractors. Her sharp-tongued mother probably bit off more than she could chew in marrying Teddy. Their daughter was a young girl left pretty much alone, lacking the love that should have been hers. But she gives us a well-written tale, beautifully told, that intrigues and allows us to see the other side of wealth.

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