It is 1901 and Buffalo, New York, stands at the center of the nation's attention as a place of immense wealth and sophistication. The massive hydroelectric power development at nearby Niagara Falls and the grand Pan-American Exposition promise to bring the Great Lakes "city of light" even more repute.
Against this rich historical backdrop lives Louisa Barrett, the attractive, articulate headmistress of the Macaulay School for Girls. Protected by its powerful all-male board, "Miss Barrett" is treated as an equal by the men who control the life of the city. Lulled by her unique relationship with these titans of business, Louisa feels secure in her position, until a mysterious death at the power plant triggers a sequence of events that forces her to return to a past she has struggled to conceal, and to question everything and everyone she holds dear.
Both observer and participant, Louisa Barrett guides the reader through the culture and conflicts of a time and place where immigrant factory workers and nature conservationists protest violently against industrialists, where presidents broker politics, where wealthy "Negroes" fight for recognition and equality, and where women struggle to thrive in a system that allows them little freedom.
Wrought with remarkable depth and intelligence, City of Light remains a work completely of its own era, and of ours as well. A stirring literary accomplishment, Lauren Belfer's first novel marks the debut of a fresh voice for the new millennium and heralds a major publishing event.
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City of Light is quite simply electrifying. Not that there's anything simple about this rich novel, which is first and foremost an examination of illusion, invisibility, and power--physical and personal. Set in the spring of 1901, as preparations for the Pan-American Exposition would seem to promise Buffalo, New York, a permanent place in the world, Lauren Belfer's book is narrated by the never-married headmistress of a fashionable girls' school. At 36, Louisa Barrett does her best to free her charges from their societal shackles. "I'm rather ashamed of all the things I've been able to give my students through the subterfuge of training them to be better wives," she says proudly. What Louisa is most concerned about, however, is her 9-year-old goddaughter, Grace Sinclair, who has grown increasingly unstable since her mother's sudden death. Meanwhile, Grace's father is heading up Buffalo's hydroelectric power plans with dangerous zeal--much to the chagrin of local conservationists who oppose any exploitation of Niagara Falls. Will Tom's intensity, which smacks of fanaticism, extend so far as murder?
But this offers only the barest idea of Belfer's complex grid. In 500 fast pages, she creates a fascinating, disquieting world in which nothing is what it seems. As Louisa battles against her instinct for self-preservation, her past--particularly a vile encounter with the corpulent Grover Cleveland--threatens to undermine her carefully created persona and loose her greatest secret. Looking back on the events of 1901 from the safety (and disappointment) of 1909, Louisa is the most astringent and intriguing of narrators. To Lauren Belfer's endless credit, City of Light is panoramic, subtle, and very physical. In her first novel, she makes us feel the rush of water, the thrill of light, the snap, crackle, and pop of social tension, and--alas for Louisa--the despair of tragic inevitability. --Sophie AthertonFrom the Back Cover:
“Suspenseful...A historical novel of high intrigue.”
“Get your hands on City of Light, a full-to-the-brim first novel...a straight-through, sleepless read.”
“A big novel, full of electricity...Niagara Falls, with currents of romance, suspense and history, cascades through City of Light...
a pleasure to read.”
--The Oregonian (Portland)
“Breathtaking...a remarkable blend of murder mystery, love story, political intrigue and tragedy of manners.”
“An ingenious first novel...alive with historical figures who mingle seamlessly with fictional characters.”
--The New York Times Book Review
“Wonderful...part murder mystery, part love story.”
A New York Times Notable Book
A Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club
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