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March 21, 2013

The Astor Orphan of Rokeby House

By Jamie Wiebe | Books

Astor Orphan
Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

Perched on a hillside above the Hudson River near Barrytown, New York, Rokeby house is cluttered with two centuries’ worth of knickknacks—some priceless, many worthless—a not-so-gilded tribute to the aristocratic splendor of generations of Astors and Livingstons who once lived there. It’s also the stifling scene of Alexandra Aldrich’s The Astor Orphan (Ecco), which brings to life the “confusion and the pain” of the author’s upbringing on the deteriorating, 450-acre estate, owned at the time by her grandmother, one of the 11 so-called Astor orphans who lived and studied at Rokeby after the unexpected deaths of New York congressman John Winthrop Chanler and his wife, Margaret Astor Ward. Aldrich recently returned to Rokeby with her son to renovate the “endless supply of broken things” that filled the manse. “Eventually, I realized that cleaning wouldn’t change anything,” she says, “so I started writing.”