Guests on Earth
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Guests on Earth

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  1,186 ratings  ·  271 reviews
It s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental institution known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses the cascading events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 t...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Shannon Ravenel Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Carolyn Hill
Three and a half stars, rounded up. I was very interested to read Lee Smith's treatment of the tragedy at Highland Hospital in Asheville that resulted in the death of Zelda Fitzgerald, as it has been a subject that has intrigued me (as all things Asheville do). I've read about it a bit myself, though not nearly to the thorough extent Ms. Smith has, as evidenced by her "Note on Sources." Though she opens the book with the AP news report of the 1948 fire at Highland Hospital, and the first page of...more
I am partial to Ms. Lee Smith but this is one of her best. The setting of a famed Asheville, NC mental hospital that treated Zelda Fitzgerald provides a southern slant on a historical review of mental illness treatment and Appalachian living beginning in the 1930's. Evalina Toussaint is a character that you will fall in love with as well as many of the other personalities at the Highland Hospital. And you may just bump into someone who seems familiar as Smith's strength is in recreating places a...more
Diane S.
Evalina comes to the renowned Highland hospital for acute sadness. Her mother had died and she found herself in untenable circumstances, which will eventually lead her to this cutting edge hospital for mental disorders under the innovative Dr. Carroll. There she will find a home and friends that will become for her a new family and a supportive community.

Of course, this hospital became famous because of Zelda Fitzgerald, who was in and out of care here, for many years. She plays a role in this s...more
While I found this book surprisingly enjoyable with a well-developed and likable main character, I can't give it a higher rating. The author seems to have gotten to the end and just given up entirely. The entire "climax" of the book (as defined by the back cover) takes place in the last ten pages, and we get no real sense of its significance. [Spoiler] This is a story about a woman who breaks down after the death of her mother, again after the death of her daughter, and we are supposed to believ...more
Where's the Zelda?

I was disappointed by the lack of Zelda in this novel. The book jacket seems to promise something the novel couldn't deliver. While Zelda Fitzgerald is present in the story, she doesn't play any central role, only appears periodically and is never revealed as more than a caricature of herself. Based on the book blurb I was expecting more.

The books starts off slowly, the narrator, Evalina Tousaint, narrates, her recollections, despite including some very emotionally charged situ...more

Lee Smith is a perfectly engrossing author, and one who easily captures the heart and imagination in a folksy, down-in-your-heart way. I've been fascinated with stories about Zelda Fitzgerald all summer long, as you know. This novel by Ms Smith has a different twist as it's seeing Zelda through the eyes of a young girl throughout her life who is actually raised as an orphan in Ashville's Highland House sanatorium. The really strong kicker of this book, however, is the e...more
Having grown up in Asheville and worked at Highland Hospital I find this book an excellent fictional tale of life at Highland. It is an easy read with wonderful facts about the city and Highland. Excellent entertaining story.
Andrea Larson
Guests on Earth explores daily life at Asheville, North Carolina’s renowned mental institution, Highland Hospital, from 1936 until 1948, when the main building burned in a tragic fire, killing nine people and gravely injuring others. It centers around the life of a fictional character, Evalina Toussaint, but also interweaves the story of the hospital’s most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.

This book is interesting mostly for the window it provides into how mental illness was diagnosed and treat...more
Nan Williams
With 50 pages left, I closed the book. Why? There were too many skips in the story line, too many unanswered questions, too many sequelae that simply did not make sense within the foundation or characterization established by the author. There were also too many characters wandering in and out of the Highland Hospital as noted by another reviewer. Before closing the book, I checked the reviews here on GoodReads and saw that the ending was going to be both disappointing and anti-climactic. At the...more
Diane Barnes
This novel paints a picture and creates a world of Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC through the eyes of Evalina Toussaint, an unusual child who spent her teen years and a lot of her adulthood "inside the snow globe" as a patient and staff member of the mental hospital. Although Evalina was a fictional character, through her we meet Zelda Fitzgerald, the most famous patient of the hospital, who died there in the tragic fire in 1948. This was a beautifully written book that illuminates the autho...more
Following her mother's death, thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is sent to Highland Hospital in North Carolina, the same mental institution where Zelda Fitzgerald and eight other women died in an intentionally set fire in 1948. With an inventive blend of history and fiction, Lee Smith follows Evalina through the 1930's and 40's, as she experiences the treatments prescribed by Dr. Carroll, who runs the hospital, as well as the imagined events leading up to the tragedy that took so many lives.

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith tells the story of Evalina, the child of a New Orleans exotic dancer. In 1936, left fatherless and orphaned, her mother’s married ex-boyfriend assumes her care. While in his home, the first sign of mental illness presents itself, and she is sent to Highland Hospital in Ashville NC—a progressive insane asylum for the wealthy who call the residents guests. At Highland, Evalina forms a makeshift family of colorfully tragic characters, finds love, herself and maybe even...more
Author Lee Smith has delighted readers of southern American fiction for years; her latest Guest on Earth may be her finest work to date. Smith has turned her talent to historical fiction based upon actual events to create a thoroughly captivating story. On March 10th 1948 the notorious Highland Hospital, a well known mental hospital, in Asheville North Carolina, burned and several residents perished in the fire. Among those who were not able to evacuate was the hospital’s most famous resident, Z...more
Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald was tragically killed in a fire at Highland Hospital (a mental hospital) in Asheville, NC on March 10, 1948. Ms. Smith tells a story of life in that institution through the eyes of a young woman, Evalina Toussaint, the daughter of a New Orleans exotic dancer, who has been sent to Highland at the age of 13 and remains there for several years. It is an absorbing piece of historical fiction as many of the characters in the book are real historical f...more
The newest novel by master writer Lee Smith tells the story of life in North Carolina's Highlands Hospital, a real mental facility. Smith tells the story through the fictional character of Evalina Toussaint, first a patient starting in 1936, and later a member of the staff.

Evalina sees the good in the people in the hospital, including Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott. Smith uses this novel to show the plight of people with mental illness.

Both of Lee Smith's parents and her son suffered from me...more
Jacqueline Baird
"The insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read."-F.Scott Fitzgerald. So begins Lee Smith's wonderful new novel set in Ashville, NC in the 193-40's. It focuses on treatment for the mentally ill during that period and is alive with colorful characters. (Zelda, among them.) Reading Lee Smith is a true Southern American pleasure. All of her books charm you.
Eric Kibler
I'm sorry to say that I didn't like this book, the first I've read by the acclaimed Lee Smith, as much as her reputation warrants.

I liked the first half of the book, the coming-of-age story of a girl who is the daughter of a "kept woman" in New Orleans and who later has extended stays in a mental hospital. The mental hospital is more idyllic than you'd expect. She becomes a musician and encounters people like Nina Simone and Zelda Fitzgerald. The selling point of the book is that it's about Zeld...more
Phil Ford
I found the story interesting historically and the setting was scenic, but some of the narrative was annoying to me. Our protagonist, Evalina Toussaint, comes to Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC in 1936 a young orphaned girl. Immediately she is taken under the wing of the wife of the head psychiatrist who sees the young girl's musical talent. Throughout the novel, Eva comes of age and eventually turns from patient to staff member. Zelda Fitzgerald is also a patient there, and the two
Nicole Wolverton
While this novel included some really great characterization, the narrative doesn't really go anywhere. I've considered that Evalina may be an unreliable narrator, but it still doesn't make the book work beyond a collection of vivid characters, with Zelda Fitzgerald thrown into the mix in a minor way.
Karma  Nash
I am a Lee Smith lover, and I do love parts of this book, but only parts. It did not hold together for me, or flow. I understand that part of the episodic nature of the book's structure mimics the often disjoiinted impressions of the main character due to the tragedies of her life. I get that. But, still as a reader, I needed more from the book.

First, I wanted more of Zelda. She is barely here, and in very unsatisfying little vignettes almost. She seems to just flit through at times, giving no...more
4.0 out of 5 stars - Fascinating and poignantly drawn picture of life and times at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina during the 1930s.

Evalina Toussaint is thirteen when she is admitted to this hospital, known for its cutting edge treatment of the more wealthy mentally ill, after her mother -- the mistress of a rich lover -- dies in New Orleans.

Evalina experiences her coming of age in this lovely place under the tutelage of the well-known Dr. and Mrs. Carroll where she also meets th...more

Nuovo romanzo di Lee Smith, Guests on Earth si concentra sulla malattia mentale attraverso la vita dei pazienti, sia reali che immaginari, presenti all’Highland Hospital (Asheville, North Carolina) tra gli anni ’30 e ’40 del secolo scorso, istituzione mentale specializzata in trattamenti d'urto molto controversi .

Evalina Toussaint, la protagonista, ha 13 anni quando viene mandata in questo ospedale da New Orleans. Evalina cresce in mezzo a pazienti tra i più disparati, come il ribelle Jinx...more
Mary Cronk
I enjoyed the idea of this story -- Zelda Fitzgerald written by a young girl in the same mental institution. The care of the mentally ill in institutions will be the theme with a historical figure, was what I thought when I started the book.

The novel portrays the life of a young girl who experience a hellish childhood and traumatic shocks and ends up institutionalized, The difference with this story, is this girl has a wealthy father and she is sent to Highland Hospital, scene of other famous pa...more
Amelia Gremelspacher
"Any life is such - different stories like different strands." Our narrator, Evalina, has spent much of her life in Highland Hospital, and institute for the insane. Famously, it is also the home of Zelda Fitzgerald who stays there on and off until the end of her life. Evalina employs the insights she has learned in treatment to share the the diverse paths of her closest fellow patients and of the staff. As a narrator, she possesses the precious ability to share what she sees within herself as we...more
I am almost without words as I've just finished this book. Lee Smith has written this story of Evalina who was just 13 when she was sent to Highlands Hospital. Famed for its unique approach to treating mental illness. Zelda Fitzgerald was also a long term patient. The lives of mostly the women depicted in this book were both tragic and yet hopeful. I love Lee Smith's writing,the characters were rich and there was such variety. So little was known about depression and schizophrenia that some of t...more
I just stumbled upon this book in the library the other day...the title intrigued me. When I read the flap and saw that it had to do with mental illness, I immediately wanted to read it. Lee Smith does a terrific job of taking an historical event, and the historical treatment of the mentally ill, and makes it not only readable but interesting and enjoyable (dare I use that term?). As one who suffers from bi-polar disorder, I am always looking for books that speak to the treatment of the mentally...more
Gail Neely
Lee Smith has an amazing gift for character development and story telling. Her characters are interesting and likeable with all their flaws.
This book started good. Then, it became really vague and boring. In the middle, it started to get interesting. Then, cumbersome and boring again. The very end offered a bit of enjoyment.

This book was a real chore to read. I only finished it because I was hoping it would turn out to be good somehow.
I love Lee Smith’s books and it was a joy to read Guests on Earth, I loved reading her lovely prose and following the life of the young woman, Evalina Toussaint. Much of the book is set in the Highland Hospital psychiatric facility in Asheville, NC, where Evalina spent many years of her life. Highland Hospital is a real place and there is a wonderful feeling of history in the story. We learn at the outset that in March 1948, the hospital caught fire and nine women patients died. The story is wha...more
Catherine Read
I loved this book. I've read all of Lee Smith's books except one. I've never been disappointed in her writing. This is a brilliant piece of historical fiction centered around a real person, Zelda Fitzgerald, and a real fire that took her life at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, NC. I remember reading Nancy Milford's biography of her titled "Zelda" back when I was in high school. I remember I was quite taken with the book and now I'm anxious to go back and re-read it.

Evalina Toussaint is a...more
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Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.

The sense of place infusing her...more
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“And are we not all “mere guests” upon this whirling earth?” 4 likes
“Is any story not always the narrator's story, in the end?” 1 likes
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