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Books

Book review

‘O My America!’ by Sara Wheeler

It’s hard not to like a book with a chapter that begins “Isabella Bird was a Victorian lady traveler, one of that tribe of battleaxes who sailed through malarial swamps, parasol aloft, or scaled unnamed Pamirs trailed by a retinue of exhausted factotums.” Another begins with this gem: “Fanny Trollope was broke when she turned fifty, and on intimate terms with pig manure.”

Trollope and Bird are two of the subjects of Sara Wheeler’s delightful amalgam of biography, travelogue, and personal essay, “O My America!: Six Women and their Second Acts in a New World.” Wheeler tracks her subjects — Britons all like the author, born within a half century of each other — in six separate, chapter-long sketches across the lower 48 as they encounter the full range of American life in the 19th century, from the Wild West to the slave South.

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