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Book Review: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

I first heard about this book a few months ago, I can’t be sure where, but I was intrigued enough to seek it out.

First off, this is written in prose poetry, so it’s a step away from my usual novel of choice, but it’s the language that is the driving force of the story and it is stunning.

It’s the story of Elizabeth Smart’s passionate love affair with the poet George Baker. It gathered a cult following in the sixties having originally being published in 1945. Only 2,000 copies had been published in Canada at the time, her mother, not entirely happy with the content, tried to buy as many as she could and burnt them. If a novel has that kind of a backstory, I’m sure as hell going to read it.

So, here’s how the story goes…..Elizabeth Smart fell in love with George Smart after reading his poetry in a book shop, it’s claimed she declared him the love of her life (they hadn’t met). He was in Japan; she began writing to him and eventually paid for him and his wife to fly over. That’s right, him and his wife, I think you can already gather that this is a messy tale.

Through Grand Central Station, Smart lays her heart on the page. It’s full of passion, it’s raw, she shares her pain, her betrayal and her grief but I do have a problem with it. I do not get it. Not the story, I understand that perfectly well; it’s him, I don’t get it.

There were times, I was screaming at her to get a grip and some self-respect. I couldn’t understand why he had such a hold over her. This was an intelligent, talented woman who completely lost the plot over a man, who, in my opinion, was an arsehole.

She’d go on to have four children with him, we only hear about the first pregnancy in this. He fathered fifteen children with various women through his life. This story tracks her first meeting with him, their love, arrest (they were travelling together, and it was deemed improper) and his betrayal. No matter what this man did, no matter how much he hurt her, she went back. Every. Single. Time. I was willing her to rip his balls off, get rid, cut her losses, anything. I just did not get it.

I have a need to understand, I need to know answers, I need to be able to make sense of the world, I became pretty obsessed with trying to work out what it was about him. It’s led me on a journey, I’ve read pretty much everything I can about Elizabeth Smart and George Baker. In an interview with the Guardian, they’re own son, didn’t get it. 

It was a love that endured fights, heartbreak, trauma, break ups and his inability to make a choice between various women in his life. Even in later life they remained friends and she kept every memento from their relationship in a box under her bed – her children found it after she died from a heart attack in 1987. 

This story is full of angst and hurt, still she went back. I wept in frustration. I just could not solve the conundrum.

In the end, I dug out the poem she’d read that led to this bizarre infatuation. It was language. They fell in love through words, him as much as she, it was their shared love of language that kept them together. 

I’ll never fully understand it, if there was ever evidence that love is blind then this is it but there is no denying that this is beautifully written and crafted. It is emotional, it doesn’t hold back, it is brutal, it is honest, it is real, she lived for this man.

I’ll always think she could have done better. I’ll always admire the fact she fought for what she wanted, she never wavered, she did (in a way) stand up for herself. Always questioning and always asking “What would you live for?”. 

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52 Books Blog

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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