When I thought about starting a Buffalo book club, I asked anyone who would answer what books we should read. The book that was mentioned most often was Lauren Belfer's "City Of Light". The plot sounded intriguing and I heard so many good things, so I chose it as our first book to read.
City of Light takes place in Buffalo in 1901. The city is booming, planning to host The Pan American Exposition and working on creating mass electricity through Niagara Falls. The story focuses around the life of Louisa Barrett (headmistress of The McCauley School which is based on Buffalo Seminary), who tells the story from her point of view.
Throughout the book, Louisa is put in the position to keep secrets, cover up scandals and all the while keeping an eye on her goddaughter, Grace. While the plot is heavily focused on Louisa's daily life and the people she encounters along the way, the city of Buffalo is my favorite character in the book. Her expressive writing made it easy to feel like I was taken back in time to Buffalo's glory days, and I often found myself looking at maps of the Pan Am grounds and flipping through picture books of the time period.
When I was reading the book, I was also taking a docent class in Buffalo and we were learning a lot about the Pan Am Exposition. It couldn't have been a more perfect time to combine the two. Belfer obviously took a long time to research the book (it took her about six years) and she so flawlessly incorporated buildings, people and streets into her writing.
The actual plot of the book kept me turning the pages and left me feeling happy, sad, angry and disheartened at the same time. There were a few parts of the book that I found difficult to read (not because of the writing but because of the plot), revelations that surprised me and characters I grew to love and hate. The ending of the book came as a shock to me and was incredibly sad. I absolutely loved how Belfer tied up some loose ends at the end and gave us a look into the future in her final few pages.
Whether you love Buffalo or not, this is a wonderful novel to read. It will keep you thinking, offer some surprises along the way and leave you wondering more about Buffalo in its glory days. If you do love Buffalo, it's a must read.
Check out some other reviews from our Lovin' On Buffalo Book Club members:
"City of Light is an adventurous walk through Buffalo at the height of its glory days. The City itself, The Pan Am Exposition, and some well-known historical figures are major "characters". I loved it!" - Suzanne Kashuba
"The book takes Buffalo's shining moments leading up to The Pan An Exposition and casts a darker view on the people and events of the powerful." - Casey Herko
"City of Light is a powerful book that relates the story of a strong woman who finds herself involved in the intrigue of the beginning of the creation of electricity at the turn of the century. The city of Buffalo is a major character." - Debbi Testa
"I couldn't put this book down! Enthralling story filled with historical gems and references." - Amanda Clute
"City of Light was romance, mystery, suspense and history intertwined into a well written story of life in Buffalo, NY in the early 1900's." - Angela Cooke
"City of Light captures the mystery, power and grace of Buffalo during 1901." - Angela Keppel
"Thrilling & mysterious! You don't want to put it down - except to Google places in Buffalo that she writes about." - Angela Stefano
Check out book club member Zandria's book review HERE.