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Summary and book reviews of The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Paragon Hotel

by Lyndsay Faye

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye X
The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2019, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

Book Summary

The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, which follows Alice "Nobody" from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's the Paragon Hotel.

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?

F One F
NOW

New York probably is infested with as savage a horde of cut-throats, rats, treacherous gunmen and racketeers as ever swarmed upon a rich and supine principality.

-Stanley Walker, The Night Club Era, 1933

U

Sitting against the pillows of a Pullman sleeper, bones clacking like the pistons of the metal beast speeding me westward, I wonder if I'm going to die.

The walls of my vibrating coffin are polished mahogany, windows spotless, reflecting onyx midnight presently. I've been watching them for several days. When I wasn't switching trains, which was its own jostling hell and doesn't bear repeating.

Does Salt Lake City ever bear repeating, really?

I don't even suppose I took the fastest route cross-country. So long as I was always moving. I remember fleeing New York, still adrift with the shock. Battling sucking currents of lost love and lost city dragging me under. Changing at Chicago I remember-the hustle, the weight of all that metal, the sheer rank sweat of making the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. While Americans study the South's Jim Crow laws as part of U.S. history, fewer people are aware that the Pacific Northwest was envisioned by many of its settlers as a whites-only utopia, a place that would remain free of crime as long as it remained free of people of color. Did this information surprise you? Due to Oregon's geography, did you expect its founders to hold more liberal views regarding race?
  2. Jazz music is what first brings Alice and Max together, and mixed-race nightclubs during the Prohibition era were regarded by many social reformers as being a key positive catalyst in breaking down color lines. What is your favorite musical style? Have you ever connected with someone who had a very different upbringing because you enjoyed ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Lyndsay Faye's arresting The Paragon Hotel focuses on how disparate groups of marginalized people cope in a country founded on the idealistic goal of equal opportunity for all. Her novel is engaging on so many levels that its multiple themes beg us to stop and reflect at frequent intervals, even as the narrative drives us to keep reading...continued

Full Review Members Only (685 words).

(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The Paragon Hotel is just a little bit at war with itself...the book’s single register is too light and crystalline to stretch around its substantial themes. But Faye writes a good puzzle, and more important, she has the dash of a real writer — which is not to say simply a published writer, but a person meant to write, who thinks and jokes and understands by writing. It’s a rare gift.

Publishers Weekly
What starts as a bit of a Prohibition-era crime romp becomes increasingly relevant as issues of mental illness, race, and gender identity take on greater significance. In addition to illuminating Portland’s unsavory history of racism, Faye’s novel vividly illustrates how high the stakes could - and can still - be for those claiming and defending their own identities.

Booklist
Starred Review. Faye once again vividly illuminates history with her fiction. ... remarkably fluid fiction, framed as a love letter and based in fact.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A riveting multilevel thriller of race, sex, and mob violence that throbs with menace as it hums with wit.

Author Blurb Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Masterpiece
From the opening scene, this novel had me in its grip. Faye delivers a riveting story filled with unforgettable characters and stunning prose, while never flinching from the painful truths surrounding America's legacy of racial injustice. A remarkable, significant novel.

Author Blurb Laura Lane McNeal, national bestselling author of Dollbaby
Full of wry wit, dark humor and magnificent period details, The Paragon Hotel is a wickedly poetic tour de force.

Author Blurb Lauren Willig, New York Times-bestselling author of The English Wife
Lyndsay Faye drops us right in the middle of the tumult of the Prohibition Era, bringing to life one of the darker times in our nation's history with wit and heart.

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Beyond the Book

The Unhappy Paradox of Black Soldiers in World War I

Black World War I SoldiersOne of the central characters in Lyndsay Faye's The Paragon Hotel is a Black Pullman train porter who had served in the United States Army in World War I. Not unlike most veterans today, he was rightfully proud of both his rank and service to the country. Regretfully, his postwar country was not as proud of his service – or that of any Black man that served.

Barely two generations out of slavery and still striving for respect from the general population, Black American men saw an opportunity in April 1917 when the United States entered the war. Here was a chance to serve their country; prove their loyalty, patriotism and worthiness as they fought a common enemy alongside white soldiers. Within weeks of the U.S. entering the war, ...

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