The Astor Orphan is an unflinching debut memoir by a direct descendant of John Jacob Astor, Alexandra Aldrich.
She brilliantly tells the story of her eccentric, fractured family; her 1980s childhood of bohemian neglect in the squalid attic of Rokeby, the family’s Hudson Valley Mansion; and her brave escape from the clan. Aldrich reaches back to the Gilded Age when the Astor legacy began to come undone, leaving the Aldrich branch of the family penniless and squabbling over what was left.
Illustrated with black-and-white photographs that bring this faded world into focus, The Astor Orphan is written with the grit of The Glass Castle and set amid the aristocratic decay of Grey Gardens.
In a sparklingly mischievous debut, Aldrich peers into the intimate collapse of a once great Hudson River house the "funny farm" of her Astor/Livingston/Chanler relatives. Spiraling way down from a long line of enterprising early Americans, financiers, socialites, and artists with illustriously entangled names, author Aldrich, whose great-grandfather was the famous music critic Richard Aldrich, reconstructs her early years growing up at the ancestral homestead of Rokeby, a 43-room mansion with numerous outlying towers and barns located on 450 acres somewhere along the Hudson River between New York City and Albany (though she never says where exactly, it is in Barryown, N.Y.). The fierce guardians of the house's aristocratic legacy, exemplified by great-grandmother Margaret Chanler, who banished relatives who had divorced or converted to Catholicism, had passed by the 1980s when Aldrich was growing up at Rokeby to a generation of impoverished, disorderly parasites, alcoholics, and madmen. Her own father, called Teddy, a Harvard-educated handyman, seemed to delight in his "deliberate defiance" of his familial responsibility and refused to make a living, preferring to ride around on the backhoe, while her Polish-born peasant artist mother, Ala, was frequently depressed and resistant to any involvement in her only daughter's school or life. Thus the young girl longed for order and stability and even a square meal, which she found occasionally at her Grandma Claire's quarters, when the old matriarch wasn't "sucking on the bottle." Aldrich's narrative tidily and fondly bears witness to the inexorable unraveling of a storied genealogy.
The Astor Orphan
Very interesting though it felt short but it depicts the authors like when she was a child so the time frame is short .
Great true story about the author’s childhood growing up in a dilapidated mansion on the Hudson in upstate New York. Fascinating, sad, and bizarre! A very candid telling that almost reads like a novel. I loved it! ☺️