The year is 1919. Exiled in disgrace from her family, mixed-race Alicia is shocked by the primitive conditions when she arrives in Key West. Unlike anywhere else in Florida, people just get along - whites, blacks, Cubans, Catholics and Jews. At the same time, the last troop ship from Europe arrives, full of wounded and traumatized soldiers. Among them is Daniel, who survived the war by shutting himself off from other people. But an unseen passenger is also arriving: the deadly Spanish flu. As the epidemic takes hold, the Klan sets up residence, extending their hatred to anyone not white and Protestant. On Christmas Eve, the situation ignites in the most deadly of ways....
From the best-selling author of Summertime comes a story of a decades-old grievance and a promise made on a night which changed many lives forever.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mrs J McRobbie on 17-12-17
An evocative tale of unknown history
I love Vanessa Lafaye’s writing. From the first page her historical novels grab the reader and draw them in. Meticulous research enables her to weave numerous threads of different stories together to make a compelling and fascinating tale. In the guise of a tenderly told love story, At First Light uncovers the start of the Klu Klux Klan in the Florida Keys, with devastating results.
By Eliza on 03-08-17
A really wonderful book, very beautifully narrated
What did you like most about At First Light?
I loved the characters, especially John Morales. By the end of the book, I was even a little in love with him! He is courageous and principled, but also difficult, stubborn and even a little cantankerous at times. His bravery and refusal to be pushed around by racist bigots is at the heart of this story.
What other book might you compare At First Light to, and why?
I loved Vanessa's first book Summertime - and this novel has many of the same qualities, particularly in terms of the subject matter and the story telling. In terms of the writing style, I would compare At First Light to Sarah Perry's latest book The Essex Serpent, particularly when it comes to her skills of description, which are first class. When listening, I was completely immersed in each scene - feeling as if I could almost touch and smell 1920s Key West.
What about Adjoa Andoh’s performance did you like?
Adjoa Andoh is a great narrator. Her voice is so expressive, particularly when it comes to giving each character their own personality. Her velvety, slow-paced Southern accent is perfect for this book, and she really is a delight to listen to.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
This book did make me cry - twice. Once at a very touching scene, where John is teaching Alicia to swim at a lonely beach, and the two of them are approached by a manatee. And once towards the end of the novel - when I cried with anger at the stupidity and bigotry of those times. But it is also funny at times - the comedy coming from the cast of characters who are part of John and Alicia's life. I particularly liked Beatriz and her down-to-earth comments. And I laughed out loud whenever the Key West gorilla appeared!
Any additional comments?
This novel is a love story - but it also addresses some very potent themes in American history - particularly racism and the rise of the KKK. Vanessa also shines some light on the Spanish Flu epidemic, which was both fascinating and horrifying. For me, this is the best sort of historical fiction - where the research is applied with a light touch, and serves to amplify and illuminate a very compelling story. This really is a stand-out book - highly recommended!