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City of Light (Belfer) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
What matters...is the vivid sense of the time and place that Ms. Belfer has created...[including] the weight of a social order in which commerce alone conferred power....Whether we've progressed from those times remains highly debatable. But in her powerfully atmospheric book Ms. Belfer makes them seem real and very far away, and at the same time eerily familiar and relevant to the present.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - The New York Times


[A] huge, sprawling portrait of the United States at the turn of the last century....At its heart is a brilliantly realized set piece that is wickedly relevant to the headlines of that era, as well as to this one....An ingenious first novel.
Ellen Feldman - The New York Times Book Review


City of Light is like the Niagara River, which is so central to the story. All appears calm as the book begins. By the time you realize you've been pulled into its swift currents, the story moves urgently through its 518 pages. It is long but fast...[I]t's breathtaking in its achievement. Belfer's first novel is a remarkable blend of murder mystery, love story, political intrigue and tragedy of manners.
Eriak Brady - USA Today


This book is part mystery and part historical melodrama, fluently mixing fact and fiction, with the sort of Victorian plot devices that gaurantee a straight-through, sleepless read. The novel is no Ragtime, but it's close-an operatic potboiler, fat with romance, politics and scandal. Even the considerable length of Lauren Belfer's City of Light can't prepare the reader for all the novel holds. In turn-of-the-century Buffalo, she illuminates (among other concerns) the struggles of women, blacks, immigrants and lesbians, labor unions and socialists; the birth of environmentalism; the back-room dealings of industrialists; and the illegitimate children of predatory U.S. Presidents.
Time


An ambitious, vividly detailed and stirring debut novel offering a panorama of American life at the beginning of the 20th century. Louisa Barrett, the bright, outspoken, handsome but rigidly proper headmistress of the exclusive (and progressive) Macaulay School for Girls in Buffalo, where the city's elite send their daughters, seems at first an unlikely heroine. In fact, she harbors an astounding secret: she's been the mistress of a powerful national politician and has given birth to a daughter. The child was adopted by a wealthy local couple, Louisa's best friends, and Louisa owes her position partly to political influence: the elite have joined to protect the President's reputation by sheltering Louisa. All of that is threatened, though, when the adoptive father, Tom Sinclair, is implicated in the death of the chief engineer at the new Niagara power station. Tom, a technological visionary, is director of that same electricity-generating station. Louisa, in an attempt to save him (and her daughter, an affectionate child who assumes that her mother is simply a good family friend), begins to investigate. Louisa's persistent inquiries offer Belfer an opportunity to create a cross-section of American society in a turbulent time; ranging from the slums to the grand houses of a city then very much in the ascendant, her narrative encompasses everything from labor turmoil and the struggles being waged by minorities (women, immigrants, blacks) for a voice, to the dazzling dreams of visionaries like Tom Sinclair, who imagines that technology will bring equality in its wake. Belfer keeps a large, fascinating, exuberant cast well in motion, and Louisa, who manages to resolve the murdermystery but loses much in the process, is a vulnerable, complex, and believeable heroine. Belfer's portrait of the nation at a hard if ebullient time, while likely to remind some readers of Doctorow's Ragtime, is less chilly and more subtle than that work, and very gripping. A remarkably assured and satisfying first novel.
Kirkus Reviews




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