Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Paragon Hotel

Title:  The Paragon Hotel
Author:  Lyndsay Faye
Publication Information:  GP Putnam's Sons. 2019. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0735210756 / 978-0735210752

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "You're supposing that you hold in your hands a manuscript."

Favorite Quote:  "Oh, I know how one gets into the knack of reading people well. A few hard years, some harder knocks, and human beings come into clearer focus."

Alice James arrives in Portland on a train. She arrives on the run from her life in Harlem, New York. She arrives with a bullet hole in her side. Alice is "Nobody." A kindly train porter decides to help, and that is how Alice arrives at the Paragon Hotel in Portland, Oregon, in the 1920s. The Paragon Hotel is an all-black hotel, and that becomes the center point of Alice's story in Portland.

The story flips back and fort between Alice's life in Harlem, and Alice's recovery at the Paragon. Harlem is the story of how a young girl named Alice turns into "Nobody" and learns to survive in a world of crime and hustle. Portland is the story of how a white woman Alice learns about the struggle of being black in a town where racism is endemic and the Ku Klux Klan wields a lot of power.

I am interested in the history but found the book challenging for several reasons.

The two story line structure is used in many books. Unfortunately, in this one, it falls a little short. The two stories are dramatically different - Mafia in New York versus racism and the Klan in Portland. Other than the character of Alice, they seem almost unrelated. Of the two, I find the one rooted in the history of Portland the more interesting one - the history and the characters are more intriguing. However, with the constant moving back and forth and the fact that the two stories are so closely placed in time, it is difficult to find a focal point.

The unifying thread of the story should be Alice. However, the surrounding characters are actually the more interesting ones, but their stories are not fully developed. The history of Portland captured in this book is really not about Alice at all. Alice is almost more a witness to the history that impacts the residents of the Paragon Hotel. The time and place captured in both time periods is also more interesting to me than Alice's individual story. Those details, however, cannot anchor a story such as this because the character is the only commonality between two such different environments.

My third challenge in this book is interestingly the language. I found the book difficult to read. Perhaps, the language is appropriate to the time and the place. I just found it hard to keep up with. It feels overdone and, for me, loses that sense of reality.

Perhaps, my biggest takeaway from this book is the history of Portland. I really had no idea. In a conversation about race and equality, Portland is not a city I think of. Sadly, the history is very real. The Oregon Territory entered the United States with a law in 1859 with laws in place banning black people from entering, living in, or owning property. In the 1920s - the time period of this book, the highest per capita Ku Klux Klan membership in the country was in Oregon. Oregon did not ratify the fifteenth amendment until 1959! How sad is that!

That lesson is the memory I take from this book. In her story, Alice finds that more unites us than divides us. Let's hope the world one day follows suit.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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