How do you choose which book to read next? Do you choose something on a familiar theme, or do you step out of your comfort zone? There is safety in a certain genre or a familiar author: you know what to expect. But sometimes, you’ll find hidden gems in you seek beyond. In this case, I looked into the realm of historical fiction and found The Paragon Hotel. The premise intrigued me. Here was the story of a white woman (like me, in this one respect) entering an all-black hotel in Portland, Oregon, and getting mixed up in the disappearance of a child of mixed race who resides there.
The Paragon Hotel is a fascinating time-slip novel. Alice James, who goes by the name of Nobody, comes from the world of the New York City Mafioso. She has battled them and lost friends to them. Now on the run, it’s possible she’s gone from the frying pan into the fire. Oregon is almost as far away as you can get from the southern states in the USA, but the Klan is alive and kicking in this state in the 1920s. This was an eye-opening read: I’d had no idea that Oregon’s constitution once banned African-Americans from residing there.
Lyndsay Faye has created an extraordinary cast of characters who draw you into the story of their lives. This might be Alice’s tale but, after the final page, I wanted to know what happened to everyone else. The reader learns the fate of only one, and it’s no spoiler to say that – with the Mafia and the Klan featuring heavily – that it isn’t a good one. There are scenes of sex and violence, and of attempted sexual violence. The language isn’t pretty at times either, even when it’s said in Italian or Sicilian. There are other interesting elements as well that provide insights into what people thought then about things that are commonplace now. Finally, there is a stunning reveal that made me want to re-read the whole book, to see if Faye had left any clues about this particular turn of events that I might’ve missed. I’m calling this one a five-star read.
Faye’s author’s note is also a worthwhile read. The Paragon Hotel building was based on a hotel that had existed in the 1920s in Portland, Oregon. It had been the only hotel for black people in the city until the Depression forced its closure. She also relates her childhood experience of moving from a multicultural area to a mostly white neighborhood, and how it shaped her life. As someone who had a similar experience, that was something to which I could relate and understand.
Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of Penguin Group)
Publication Date: 08 January 2019