The year is 1993. The Ku Klux Klan hold a rally provoking violence from an unexpected quarter which leaves authorities with an extraordinary dilemma: how do you handle a 98-year-old perpetrator who will not speak out except to admit her guilt?
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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A really wonderful book, very beautifully narrated
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!