Author: Lyndsay Faye
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover, 432 Pages
Publication: January 8, 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.
The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.
She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers--burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new "family" of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.
Why was "Nobody" Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon's denizens live in fear--and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?
I am embarrassed to admit that I have neither heard nor read anything by Faye until I was pitched The Paragon Hotel. Per my reading record and taste, The Paragon Hotel would seem like the odd book out. What my dear blog readers don’t know is that I adore all things history, and though I may not read many historical novels, I am utterly fascinated by the subject. And 1920s Prohibition era is one of my favorite periods. Faye transports readers back in time to the turn of the twentieth century pinging back and forth from the past to the present, from 1857 Harlem, New York to 1933 Portland, Oregon. The Paragon Hotel highlights the beauty and tragedy of the time period. It explores the prevalent racism, discrimination, inequality, and violence subjugated by people of color in Oregon and immigrants in New York. But not everything was dark and ugly…it also showed that despite everything that happens in the world, real love, friendship and family knows no color or gender.
It takes extraordinary talent to capture any time period. Not only did Faye succeeded in bringing the prohibition and segregation era to life, she did it beautifully and authentically; from the minute detail of the setting, the characters, the locations chosen to its vernacular while penning a compelling story with characters worth caring for. When one thinks of the prohibition era, one tends to conjure up images of speakeasies, mafia, drugs, booze and violence. And The Paragon Hotel has all that but from the perspective of a woman…which has never been done before in literature, at least none that I’ve seen. It was very intriguing. But Faye doesn’t stop there. She goes the extra hundred miles and adds another female perspective, specifically an African-American woman to show racism in America during the early 1900s. The Paragon Hotel took me for an emotional roller-coaster. I was in awe and in shock. My emotions were all over the place; feeling anger, happiness, anxious and sadness. In for a penny, in for a pound, Faye holds nothing back. She illuminates America’s darkest past but does it in a way that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. This may sound odd but as dark as the subject matter was and it was extremely dark and violent; Faye incorporated humor perfectly for which I am a grateful for, so the book wasn’t completely grim. Let’s just say I laughed and smiled far more than I should or thought I would have. The balance of suspense, mystery, action and humor blended seamlessly.
The two women at the the forefront of the novel were indomitable, strong, and atypical heroines. During this time women were believed to be better suited at home and in the kitchen. Yet Faye created these amazing characters, these women that showed us that women were more than capable of taking care of themselves, can do anything they set their mind to and are equal if not better than their male counterparts. I loved Alice/Nobody and Blossom. From the first page of the novel, I was smitten with Alice/Nobody. Anyone that can be calm, collected and somewhat joke after being shot is a sure keeper. I initially thought that Alice, with a background of working with the Mafia would be just as ruthless and calculated as her boss, so it was a wonderful surprise to see how caring and thoughtful she was. One of Alice’s many talent is being able to transform into any character she needs to be…whether it be a damsel in distress, a fine aristocratic lady, journalist or just Nobody; she creates a full story and background and falls right into character to get whatever she needs. Some readers had a hard time adjusting to the many facets of Alice/Nobody. The different personas may be jarring at first but after some time you get use to it. I for one, am a fan of her chameleon nature.
This is Historical Fiction at its best. I thoroughly enjoyed The Paragon Hotel. The vivid descriptions and the immense detail, work and research that went into the creation of this novel is pure gold. I always appreciate a book that can both enthrall and educate me. The mystery had me at the edge of my seat and the twist and turns kept coming right up to the very end. I loved being surprised. I also loved that Faye chose Oregon as one of her setting. We rarely ever see novels set in Oregon, and especially a period piece. Learning about the racism and the emergence of the KKK extremist group in Oregon was quite a shock…I soaked up all the information like a sponge. Before this book, I never realize that everything depicted could occur on the west coast, because as the author mentioned, everyone figured it was only prevalent in the South. All in all, a wonderful and heart wrenching novel. My first five star for the year. Although the year has just started, I can easily say it now, this is my top book of 2019. I highly recommend The Paragon Hotel, read it A.S.A.P, you won’t regret it.
Side note. Be sure to read the Author’s Note. It’s fascinating. Faye goes into detail about the writing and research process and how the hotel and a few characters’ were based on a actual place and people.