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Summary and book reviews of Invisible City by Julia Dahl

Invisible City

A Rebekah Roberts Novel

by Julia Dahl

Invisible City
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  • First Published:
    May 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

In her riveting debut Invisible City, journalist Julia Dahl introduces a compelling new character in search of the truth about a murder and an understanding of her own heritage.

Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she's also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah's shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD's habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can't let the story end there. But getting to the truth won't be easy - even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

In her riveting debut Invisible City, journalist Julia Dahl introduces a compelling new character in search of the truth about a murder and an understanding of her own heritage.

CHAPTER ONE

I was in Chinatown when they called me about the body in Brooklyn.

“They just pulled a woman out of a scrap pile in Gowanus,” says Mike, my editor.

“Lovely,” I say. “So I’m off the school?” I’ve spent the past two days pacing in front of a middle school, trying to get publishable quotes from preteens or their parents about the brothel the cops busted in the back of an Internet café around the corner.

“You’re off,” says Mike.

The rest of the press is on the scene when I arrive at the gas station across from the scrap yard. Pete Calloway from the Ledger is baring his crooked teeth at the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, or as reporters call him, DCPI. DCPI is six inches taller and seventy pounds heavier than Pete. It’s barely twenty degrees out and Pete’s got his hoodie up, his shoulders hunched against the cold, but DCPI is hatless, scarfless, gloveless, coatless. His uniform...

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Reviews

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There is so much packed into Dahl’s scaled-down narrative: the murder (not a spoiler), the contrast between what is taught in journalism class and the reality of boots-on-the-ground reporting, the tacit acceptance of lowest-common-denominator tabloids versus lofty journalistic ideals, the whole motherless child vibe that thrums within Rebekah’s psyche, and the relevance of ultra-conservative, misogynistic religious communities. Indeed, perhaps the only flaw in Dahl’s debut is a few scattered lengthy passages that tend to bog the plot.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (585 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating portrayal of a young woman coming to terms with her heritage while negotiating an unknown world.

Booklist

This novel is particularly notable for its combination of a skillfully wrought, increasingly suspenseful mystery populated by well-drawn characters and a deeply sympathetic understanding of a contemporary culture that remains insular for its own understandable reasons. Journalist Dahl’s debut sets a high bar.

Library Journal

In her gripping debut mystery, veteran journalist Dahl creates an intriguing protagonist seeking justice for a victim's family as well as the truth about her own origins.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Dahl's convincing dialogue and perfect pacing make for a real page-turner. And her storytelling skills illuminate the intriguing worlds of the tabloid press, Hasidism, the NYPD, and Brooklyn's 20-somethings - as well as the fragile boundaries of family, religion, and life itself.

Author Blurb Gillian Flynn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
An absolutely crackling, unputdownable mystery told by a narrator with one big, booming voice. I loved it.

Author Blurb Cara Hoffmann, author of So Much Pretty
A smart, tightly-wrought page turner and one of the finest depictions of beat journalism I've read...This lucid, illuminating gem is an outstanding debut.

Author Blurb Steve Yarbrough, award-winning author of Safe From the Neighbors
Julia Dahl is a veteran reporter, and her debut novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. She knows this world inside out, and the result is a tense tale written in prose that crackles and pops.

Reader Reviews
Davida Chazan

The darkness beneath the black hats and wigs
To tell the truth, crime dramas aren't really my thing. But being Jewish, I found the connection to the ultra-orthodox or Hassidic world was what drew me to this book. Their world is famous (or perhaps I should say infamous) for being insular and ...   Read More

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There is Nothing Like a Motherless Child

According to an article in The Washington Times: "In America, the number of single fathers has risen from 600,000 in 1982 to over 2 million in 2011, partially because of mothers leaving their families. In the UK, it is estimated mother (sic) are abandoning their children at a rate of 100,000 annually." Although mostly anecdotal, that figure, according to a survey reported in Psychology Today, is rising at a rate of 12% per year. And The Washington Times' Paul Mountjoy says, "This phenomenon is growing so rapidly that there are support groups for mothers that leave home."

Perhaps this is because women are now in careers and lifestyles that were once in the sole purview of men. And yet there is a stigma attached to mothers who, for ...

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