A gun moll with a knack for disappearing flees from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s Paragon Hotel.
The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James has just arrived in Oregon with a bullet wound, a lifetime’s experience battling the New York Mafia, and fifty thousand dollars in illicit cash. She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of home and who saves Alice by leading her to the Paragon Hotel. But her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be an all-black hotel in a Jim Crow city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. As she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she understands their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, electing officials, infiltrating newspapers, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice and her new Paragon “family” are searching for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the woods. To untangle the web of lies and misdeeds around her, Alice will have to answer for her own past, too.
I was really surprised by all the 5 star reviews. I’m not going to go into a summary of the story because other reviewers have already done this. This is my first Lyndsay Faye book and most likely my only. (I did look up the author’s other books and they really didn’t interest me.) I mostly read historical fiction and was piqued by the time period and the book description. It took me a long time to “get into” the story. I think I was 60 % into it before I thought the story started to pick up. There were a couple of twists I wasn’t expecting. I found the vernacular difficult to follow and would sometimes reread a section so that I felt I understood the storyline. I think the more interesting story would have been a book about Blossom’s life prior to her residency at the Paragon Hotel. When I love a book, I usually read it in a matter of days. This one took me more than two weeks to finish. It’s not that it was a bad story, it just didn’t grab me and pull me in.
- Engrossing book that seamlessly weaves human drama with historical racism in 1920s Oregon.
“Nobody” or Alice, wounded in almost every way, is on the run from the Mafia, and lands in Portland’s only hotel for blacks. The story begins and sweeps the reader into the lives of the residents of the hotel.
The characters will make a lasting imprint on your heart. The description of the Klan actions and its motto “America First” are eerily similar to the current “Make America Great Again”. Rracism in America is the proverbial bad penny.
A cracking good read. A book, which invokes the somewhat pompous statement, all America needs to read.
Writing was tight and the plot had a nice pace. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the book but it took me weeks to read what I usually read in days. In pondering why, I came to this conclusion…I read fiction to escape and be entertained but this story appears to be designed to check all the current social justice boxes. The author has very strong political opinions and this book is her way of venting them. It is hard to enjoy a good read when you feel that you are actually reading a well written moral lecture.
I won’t recap the plot which is complex but oddly believable. This is simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It crosses the multifaceted worlds of organized crime, racism, bigotry, violence, power, and mindless destruction that faced early 20th-C. immigrants and Black people trying simply to live their lives, raise families, be in peace. Against this backdrop of the KKK and mafia both bent on exercising absolute control over the “others”, it is a story of powerful courage, love, and community. As outsized as the characters are drawn, as unorthodox as they may be, they remain, throughout the story, genuinely decent, principled and brave in the face of almost universal hate directed toward them for their simple existence. Their alliances are powerful, and their courage awe inspiring. Their love of one another is glittering in its capacity to make us understand what, in the end, genuinely makes us human. I loved this book and the backdrop of history from New York to Portland,OR. I learned a great deal from it, but the novel’s most compelling aspect was the telling of a really strong and fascinating story about people I came to genuinely love.
- What a story this is. It’s a gangster/mafia story. It’s a story about racism, including the KKK. It’s a story about intolerance and bias. It’s a story about friendship and relationships. It’s a love story. It’s a sad story, but yet a hopeful one. It’s a story about resilience in the face of adversity. It choked me up more than once but had me amused or smiling at times also, thankfully, or I would have been an emotional mess as I finished reading.
The tale begins in 1921, during the time of Prohibition, when 25-year-old Alice James, aka “Nobody”, on the run from the mafia in NYC and with a festering bullet wound, takes the train to Portland, Oregon. She’s befriended on the train by Max Burton, a black Pullman porter, who takes her to the Paragon Hotel when they arrive in Portland. Now, mind you, this is an all-black hotel and Alice is Welsh-Italian, but she’s in need and Dr. Pendleton, owner of the hotel, is an extremely capable medical doctor, not to mention a discreet one.
So here’s Alice, the only white resident of the Paragon. She’s resented at first by the others, who figure she’ll bring nothing but trouble to them. Turns out, however, that trouble would find them anyway. Oregon at the time was very racially intolerant and had the biggest KKK organization west of the Mississippi River. And even many of those whites not affiliated with the KKK still defended the northern chapters as a “political rallying tool and a charitable club. It’s all America first with them…Fund-raisers, not lynch mobs.” After all, “they’re all church-goers.”
Well, as we all know, there’s church going and then there’s church going. It all depends on who you decide deserves your Christian charity. And when young Davy, an orphan boy living at the Paragon goes missing, things come to a crisis point.
But this isn’t just a story about racial intolerance in 1920s Oregon. We also have some very personal stories of many and varied characters. Of course, top of the list is Alice, or Nobody. Born and raised in NYC, with her Italian father deceased and her Welsh mother struggling to survive as a prostitute, it seems that her inevitable career path will also be on her back.
Things get complicated by her close friendship with Nicolo Benenati and his family and when their lives are affected tragically by actions of the Corleonesi mafia, Alice finds herself under the wing of Mauro Salvatici, owner of the Arcadia Hotel and major enemy of the Corleonesi. As his protege, Alice use her “Nobody” abilities to adapt her personality and looks to any situation, as needed, to uncover information useful to Salvatici.
Until the day she uncovers too much and off Alice goes, on the lam. These flashbacks to Alice’s life in NYC during the time of Prohibition, all the people she interacted with, whether as friends or antagonists, is quite compelling and is interspersed throughout the book in chapters entitled “Then”, as opposed to the Portland “Now” accounts.
There are secrets and lies everywhere. In New York City and in Portland. Alice had unraveled many secrets to her detriment in NYC and now in Portland she may be on her way to uncovering several secrets and lies hidden at the Paragon Hotel.
Much of the plot and writing in this book blew me away. I love Faye’s descriptive abilities. When introducing young Davy to us, she says he “sits in the chair Blossom vacated, swinging energetic legs as if remaining still is an affront to personal freedoms.” About housekeeper Mavereen: “She’d make an equally fine church board directress or cathouse madam…” Mrs. Muriel Snyder “has a face that makes me figure God took his inspiration from a potato.” There’s so much more of this and made it necessary for me to slow down and savor the writing, instead of rushing my way to the denouement.
This is a lovely book about the human spirit and condition. It’s a sad book about how tragedies can cause irreparable damage to one’s soul. And it is also a hopeful one about how love and friendship can help one’s spirit be more resilient. It’s also a sobering look at how little progress we have made since the 1920s to overcome racism and intolerance. Alice muses toward the end of the book about “whether there will still be flaming crosses in the unknowable world fifteen years from now, when Davy Lee steps out to make it his own.” It’s much more than 15 years now in 2018 and even if there is less blatant cross burning, that doesn’t mean we can be satisfied that the Davy Lees of our times have an equal footing and can make the world their own.