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Guests on Earth

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  2,471 ratings  ·  498 reviews
“Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction . . . Gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by A Shannon Ravenel Book (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
Connie
This was my first Lee Smith book (a local author for me) but it will not be my last. She did a brilliant job of combining historical events with the fictitious characters she created. The story is told by Evalina who spends the majority of her life as a "guest" at Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC. The hospital and the famous Dr. Carroll were real, as were the infamous Zelda Fitzgerald who was a guest there as well until she died in a fire at the hospital.

Highland was a mental hospital which
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Heather
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
Liz
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
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
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Barb
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
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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
Lydia
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.
Ruth Turner

Some readers were dissatisfied with the relatively small part that Zelda Fitzgerald played in this story. Not so for me. My interest was in Highland Hospital, so in that regard I wasn't disappointed.

The story is well written and an easy read and I enjoyed the first half very much, getting to know Evalina, her life, and how she came to be at Highland.

The history of the treatment of mental illness in the 1940's was interesting, (although the mention of a lobotomy, performed through the eye socket,
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Deborah
THE BOOKISH DAME REVIEWS :

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
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Sarah
Okay, I'm a little biased as I know Lee, and she's the reason I am published. She took me under her wing and helped me find an agent. But BEFORE that, I was a huge fan, and this book is one of her best. I loved it so much, especially the NC stuff as that's my home state. All of her books are great. She is my role model.
Amy
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
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
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Shannon
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.

Th
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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
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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
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.
Wilhelmina
I have read and loved Lee Smith's books since I read Black Mountain Breakdown about 30 years ago. In this book, Smith does what she does best - portraying the complexities of the lives of women, particularly southern women, in a specific southern location. While there are real historical figures in this book, primarily Zelda Fitzgerald, and the setting of the book - Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina - does exist, this is a work of fiction and it is Smith's skil ...more
Lyssa
This book was very annoying and pointless. I felt that the main character, Evalina, was only created to show the interactions with Zelda Fitzgerald in the mental hospital. Why not just write a book about Zelda Fitzgerald? Evalina loved living in the mental hospital and considered it her home and the patients and doctors her family. She was a messed up character who wasted all of her potential and expensive schooling to run after a wastrel. Her baby dies and the book never even addresses her grie ...more
Mark
Evalina Toussaint was only thirteen, when she was suddenly orphaned and admitted to a mental institution in Asheville North Carolina. This was 1936 and one of the hospital's most notable patients, was Zelda Fitzgerald. She befriends young Evalina and helps her navigate her way, through this unique time and place.
The story, weaving fact and fiction, follows Evalina for the next twelve years, in and out of the institution and then concludes at the infamous fire that ravaged Highland Hospital, in 1
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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
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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 bond...so ...more
Michelle
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
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
Candice
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
Lisa
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
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Laura Lee
Zelda Fitzgerald has been a hot topic in novels for the last year or so. Smith's latest book is about Highland Hospital in Asheville NC, where Zelda is a patient, on and off for about ten years. During that time a young girl is also admitted, released and admitted again. Though Zelda is a character in the book, the main character is Evalina. She also narrates the book. I found her heartbreak chilling and her life sad but triumphant at the same time. Smith is perfect at portraying the South and w ...more
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.
Karen
I read this book in preparation for a trip to Asheville next weekend for my first Books on the Nightstand "Booktopia" experience. This is the first novel I have read by Lee Smith and it won't be my last as I really enjoyed it. The novel blends fact with fiction, providing a historical perspective of events leading up to the tragic 1948 fire at the Highland Hospital for 'nervous diseases' in Asheville. The characters are wonderfully constructed and I found the book hard to put down. I have read a ...more
Susan
I have been an appreciative reader of Lee Smith for a long time. Her first books were excellent stories of the people of Appalachia in the present and recent past. Recently, however, she has seemed to be casting about for other subject material and not doing so well with it. Her foray into the Civil War era (On Agate Hill was, IMO, a disaster.

I think it is unfortunate that Ms. Smith (or her editor or publicist) made much of the connection between Zelda Fitzgerald and the hospital the author was
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High Point Public...: Guests on Earth Discussion 1 1 Dec 16, 2014 09:06AM  
Where's the Zelda? 7 35 Nov 06, 2014 09:53AM  
Mid-Continent Pub...: Book Group Title of the Month: June 2014 1 24 Jun 18, 2014 01:32PM  
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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
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More about Lee Smith...
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“And are we not all “mere guests” upon this whirling earth?” 8 likes
“Now courting’s a pleasure, and parting is grief, but a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief!” 2 likes
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