The Friends of The Princeton Public Library Book Club is reading City of Light of August by Lauren Belfer. Join them on Thursday, September 8th at 4:00pm to be a part of the discussion. The full review from Publisher’s Weekly is as follows: A gift for social nuance and for authoritatively controlled narration shapes this compelling debut, which sets one young woman’s extraordinary fate against the backdrop of the political struggles over the burgeoning electric industry as it began to harness the power of Niagara Falls at the turn of this century. Louisa Barrett, headmistress of a prestigious girls’ seminary in Buffalo, N.Y., operates in the city’s social circles with a freedom generally not accorded to other women. People assume her to be “without passion or experience,” she observes, and she proceeds to tell her story with the clarity and restraint of a Jane Austen heroine.
Louisa gradually reveals the great secret and sorrow of her life: having been raped by a high-powered politician (readers will gasp at the implications of his identity), Louisa secretly gave birth to a daughter nine years earlier, and arranged for the baby’s adoption by her best friend, Margaret Sinclair, who has recently died.
Belfer’s delineation of society’s power structure, deftly portrayed in the controversy over the Falls and the city fathers’ preparations for the Pan-American Exposition, undergird a many-layered zinger of a conclusion. The rich mix of fictional and historical figures includes a family from Buffalo’s black middle class, presidents Cleveland and McKinley, and immigrant power-station workers who risk life and limb. With the assurance of an established writer, Belfer delivers a work of depth and polishAan unsentimentalized story complete with dangerous liaisons, gorgeous descriptions of the Falls and a central character whose voice is irresistible to the last page of her tragic story.