Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth

Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth
By Ross Eliot
Genre: Memoir, LGBTQ/ Trans Nonfiction, NW History

This narrative begins in 1998 when, in his early twenties, Ross Eliot relocates to Portland, Oregon and eventually the basement pantry of a grand house owned by Dr. Babette Ellsworth, an arcane history professor. 

Her past unfolds in stories, from the 1928 kidnapping in central Washington carried out by a mysterious wealthy French woman, to life in occupied Europe during World War II with the Czarist assassin of Rasputin a frequent houseguest. The professor’s later life experiences in America only create more intrigue, from teenage prostitution to her late-life sex reassignment, involvement with the Catholic Church and connections to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose cult perpetrated a notorious 1984 bio-terror attack in Oregon.

Eliot cares for Dr. Ellsworth until her death in 2002 before an entire class of students, however, the shroud covering her story has only partially raised and murkier secrets than ever suspected emerge. Part memoir, part mystery, part history lesson– this true tale binds drama from classic Greek tragedy together with revelations worthy of the most bizarre fiction. From gender and sexuality to religious theory and existential philosophy, it’s an unorthodox love saga between pupil and mentor, yet also for the city of Portland where they live.

My Review

Oh, Babette. How easily I was sucked into her intriguing life. Dr. Babette Ellsworth was a history professor in Portland, Oregon that lived an almost unbelievable life. In 1928, newborn Ellsworth was kidnapped from Yakima, Washington and spent her early life in occupied Europe with her French mother.

Author Ross Eliot met Ellsworth in 1999 when he enrolled in one of her history classes. The two soon became roommates resulting from Ellsworth’s declining health. Eliot finds himself as caretaker and confidant. Ross begins to unravel the story of Babette and her male-to-female transition later in life.

This memoir touches on Ross’s life in Portland as he spends his days going to school, traveling with Babette wherever she needs to go, and navigating the Portland nightlife. The real meat of the story is the daily dance between Ross and Babette.

I don’t think I could get enough of Babette and her eccentric ways. She was fascinating and had a never-ending supply of historical knowledge which took up much of the book (interesting and enjoyable.) I adored how she controlled her story and who she allowed in her sacred sanctuary that she called home. As much as Babette was an open book, she had a plethora of secrets – some that she took with her when she left this life.

Author Info

Ross Eliot is a writer, roofer, auto mechanic, DJ and commercial fisherman based in Portland, Oregon and Sitka, Alaska.  He is best known as publisher and editor of the critically acclaimed counterculture gun politics magazine American Gun Culture Report from 2006-2011 and the current internet journal Occupy the 2nd Amendment.

No comments: