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?
Tags: Historical Fiction, Black history, General Fiction, Mystery, Mafia, Romance, Friendship
(I received a free e-copy of this book, thanks to G. P. Putnam’s Son’s and Edelweiss, in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinions on the book.)
When I decided to start reading my ARC of The Paragon Hotel I didn’t realize that, coincidentally, it was Black History Month!
I didn’t much like the protagonist, Alice. She kind of reminds me of Brie Larson. I think it wasn’t really her character that was unlikeable because she was strong-minded and capable of taking care of herself, but more that some scenes felt way too forced and trying so hard to be politically right that her and some of the other characters’ actions/dialogue came off as unrealistic and cheesy.
The settings and speech felt quite authentic and many of the characters fleshed-out well. Lyndsay has captured the visceral fear the persecuted people felt during those times and circumstances impressively.
‘They strung up another Georgia Negro back home, left him for the crows and the ants. Wasn’t much skin left on his back in the first place, seemed like, and the critters made plenty quick work with the rest. He was a local shopkeeper’s boy. Eighteen.’
Told through two time periods, present-day Alice and the account of events leading up to present-day Alice. This was done in mostly consistently alternating chapters which can either put you off, make you impatient or eager to know what happens next. I felt the latter two.
The writing style was unique and filled with descriptive metaphors, something that might take a bit of adjusting but surprisingly easy to understand.
‘…a curly headed rascal with soulful eyes that had been hardening lately. Cooling like a spill of wax.’
‘His voice was smooth as an untouched pool.’
As for the mystery, there was quite a bit of it going on for a story that’s supposed to be about race and self-discovery. You can expect a few twists in here.
I didn’t quite get one part but I can’t mention it for fear of spoilers.
Overall, an impressive portrayal of racial persecution and living amongst the mafia in USA. The romance(mostly) wasn’t central to the story.
Parental Guidance: 16+
Violence – Yes. Depiction of gory killings, animal abuse, lynching, attempted rape and gun violence.
Sex – Topics of sexuality, sexual-orientation, prostitution and two brief sex scenes.
Religion – Athiest and religious characters.
Profanity – Yes, plenty.
Recommended for: Those who’re interested in learning a bit about the Prohibition era and how life was like for colored, but mainly black, people in those days. For those who like gutsy, strong-willed female characters.