This richly imagined novel 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.
“A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America’s most enduring fairy tales.”—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets.
But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of “Over the Rainbow,” Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her youth as a suffragette’s daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Judy reminds Maud of a young girl she cared for and tried to help in South Dakota, a dreamer who never got her happy ending. Now, with the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her—the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.
The author of two New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, Elizabeth Letts is a master at discovering and researching a rich historical story and transforming it into a page-turner. Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts’s journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts’s new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America’s heartland.
Praise for Finding Dorothy
“In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl’s excellent I, Fatty, Letts’ Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. . . . It’s a testament to Letts’ skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to ‘Over the Rainbow.’”—BookPage (starred review)
Letts's engrossing latest (following Family Planning) is a behind-the-scenes tale of the late L. Frank Baum, author of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and his widow, Maud. Maud is in her 70s in 1938 when she learns of the Judy Garland starring film being made, and recalls a long-ago promise she made Frank to take care of Dorothy. The story goes back to 1880 when Maud, the daughter of a women's suffragist, attends Cornell. Maud's roommate, Josie, is Frank's cousin, who serves as a matchmaker for the couple. Although she's determined to focus on her education, Maud is drawn to Frank, who has a fledgling theater company. Despite her mother's disappointment, Maud withdraws from college to marry. Maud reminisces about her life with Frank as she befriends young Judy; Judy confides in Maud about missing her deceased father, about older men's advances, and about being coerced into taking diet pills to remain thin. In addition to being Judy's confidant, Maud vocalizes the necessity of keeping the film adaptation true to Frank's work. Letts expertly illuminates the true story behind the tale beloved by so many readers through history, but best of all is the wonderful depiction of Maud herself. This is a crowd-pleasing, thoroughly satisfying novel.
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This may have been one of the best books I have read all year! I was so disappointed when it ended. I became so involved in the characters and their story. A feel good book with a reality check on how far women have come.
An Amazing Book Not to be Missed!
What a wonderful book! At its simplest “Finding Dorthy” is the story of Maud Baum, the wife of the author of the Wizard of Oz, and her commitment to making certain the film version is authentic and honors the spirit of her husband. It weaves together the story of the making of the film with the life of Maud and L. Frank Baum. The book creates a picture of L. Frank Baum that is tender and somewhat lost. A man with vision but with little to back his vision, who repeatedly faces failure and disaster but refuses to be destroyed by them. It is his vision, failures, and disasters that are central to the story and to creating the magic of the Wizard of Oz. It is what Maud Baum insists must be captured in the film. Maud’s concern for the authenticity of the film runs deep and encompasses her care and concern for the character of Dorthy and the actress, Judy Garland who plays Dorthy. The book shows us a glimpse behind the curtain of the making of the film not unlike the glimpse we get of the Wizard of Oz when his curtain is drawn back at the end of the film. And while neither glimpse shows the magic they would like us to believe in, it is in a way its own magic. That is the magic that is created not of whimsy and fantasy but rather a magic created by holding on to beauty, love, and goodness throughout a journey that is made of hardship, sadness, and loss. This is where true magic is created. And this is the magic of Baum's’ Wizard of Oz as well as the magic that we experience and come to understand in "Finding Dorthy”. I was privileged to receive a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher Random House, Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.