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1 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

City of Light


City of Light Cover

ISBN13: 9780385337649
ISBN10: 0385337647
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. In City of Light, the upper echelons of Buffalo society all get what they want by cultivating an "acceptable" image under which they can do what they want, regardless of its moral implications. How does this rationalize their behavior, as well as hide it?

2. Faced with a social order that demanded this "acceptable" behavior, was there any other way Louisa could react when faced with a crisis — such as Millicent's abduction or the vandalization of her school?

3. Are there any main characters in this story who don't follow society's code? Who and why?

4. Louisa likes to think of her students as "a generation of subversives who took up their expected positions in society and then, day by day, bit by bit, fostered a revolution." Do you think that this is what she achieved with her students? Was it the best way she had to help the social progress of women?

5. Why do none of the members of Buffalo society become involved with the faction that is worried about the affects of the power plant on the environment?

6. In protecting Grace, was Louisa doing the right thing? Did her focus on the little girl blind her, impairing her judgement, as with her decision to not turn Susannah Riley in?

7. Would Louisa have been better off moving away from Buffalo and merely keeping in touch with the Sinclair family? Would Grace have been better off?

8. If Abigail's mother wanted to keep her daughter's child far away from Abigail and from scandal, why didn't she have him adopted in a family far away, instead of sending it to the asylum?

9. Why does Mr. Rumsey let Louisa know that he planned her meeting with Cleveland? Would she have been better off never knowing?

10. Why does Mr. Rumsey seem surprised that Louisa might have suffered from her experience of conceiving Grace — or that she feels badly about her "loss of innocence?"

11. In 1901, Buffalo is one of the richest, most sophisticated cities in the nation. How does this influence Louisa's life, and the lives of the wealthy citizens of the city? What do they hope to achieve on the brink of a new century?

Bonus questions:

What motivates Tom Sinclair's dreams of electrical power? Is it the vision of industrial progress, the hope of personal fame and wealth, or something else?

Why was Francesca Coatsworth able to maintain her "alternative" lifestyle and still be such an influential member of society?

Why do you think Francesca allowed Sarah to disappear into Singapore after she confessed her crimes?

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Gypsi, June 6, 2010 (view all comments by Gypsi)
What to say about the City of Light? Simply saying it was one of the best books I've read just doesn't seem emphatic enough!

I had read favorable reviews of it, but it never sparked my interest. Turn of the century Buffalo, the PanAmerican Exposition, a headmistress and the Niagara Falls electric company just didn't sound like my kind of book. But then, a good friend recommended it--she has read it twice--and I thought I'd give it a try 'cause we have similar reading tastes.

I read the first page, and my opinion began to change. I eagerly turned to the next page, and the next, and. . . I became obsessed with Lousia, and the world around her, with the events that began with her or ended with her or just involved her. All weekend I read until I couldn't focus, needing to read, to know, to be a part of her world. Toward the end of the book I was torn between hurrying through to see how it would end, and dallying, to make it last.

I don't know how to describe this book, how to sort it neatly into a genre. There is mystery and history, inspiration and romance, fact and fiction--it's all there. But more importantly, there is life, in the plot, the characters, the conflicts and the conclusions.
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Christopher Hoak, January 4, 2010 (view all comments by Christopher Hoak)
Lauren Belfer delivers in electrifying fashion with this historical novel that tells the story of a bygone era when Buffalo & Niagara Falls were at the very center of Science, Industry, Politics, Civil Rights, the Arts and even the Environment! "City of Light" is a remarkable first book from an author who obviously put her heart and soul into this labor of love. Like Erik Larson, Thomas Keneally and Mike Dash, she weaves a complex tale of good, evil and everything in between, but this time with a woman's touch. Her multi-faceted characters are real and the excitement is at times palpable. I could hear the grinding turbines and gushing torrent of water as clearly as I felt the bite of Winter on an exhilarating sleigh race through Forest Lawn Cemetery. Moreover, I felt the anguish and guilt along with the titillation, excitement and exhilaration of humanity. All of this from a people, a time and a city that pulsated with life more than a century ago.
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Product Details

Belfer, Lauren
Dial Press
New York, N.Y.
City and town life
Historical - General
Mystery fiction
Historical fiction
Industrial revolution
Women school principals.
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.18x5.34x1.11 in. .84 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

City of Light Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 512 pages Dial Press - English 9780385337649 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"This is a beautifully written historical mystery. A century ago, Buffalo, New York, was one of the premier American cities. Against this fascinating backdrop, Belfer weaves the story of Louisa Barrett, a modern women beset by dark secrets and embroiled in mysteries that mirror the forces shaping the country as it moves into a new age."

"Review" by , “Breathtaking...a remarkable blend of murder mystery, love story, political intrigue and tragedy of manners.”
"Review" by , “An ingenious first novel…alive with historical figures who mingle seamlessly with fictional characters.”
"Review" by , “Wonderful…part murder mystery, part love story.”
"Review" by , “Suspenseful…A historical novel of high intrigue.”
"Review" by , “Get your hands on City of Light, a full-to-the-brim first novel…a straight-through, sleepless read.”
"Review" by , “A big novel, full of electricity…Niagara Falls, with currents of romance, suspense and history, cascades through City of Light… a pleasure to read.”
"Review" by , "[An] impressive debut....a stereopticon of a novel, sepia-tinged at the edges yet bursting with color at its center....What the vivid sense of the time and place that Ms. Belfer has created."
"Review" by , "[A] luminous and riveting first novel....In gorgeous, exacting prose, Belfer creates a compelling heroine....and in her skillful hands, we vividly see stately boulevards and mansions, parks landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, and feel the sense of promise in this almost-frontier city."
"Review" by , "This book is part mystery and part historical melodrama, fluently mixing fact and fiction, with the sort of Victorian plot devices that gaurantee a straight-through, sleepless read. The novel is no Ragtime, but it's close — an operatic potboiler, fat with romance, politics and scandal."
"Synopsis" by , City of Light

The year is 1901. Buffalo, New York, is poised for glory. With its booming industry and newly electrified streets, Buffalo is a model for the century just beginning.

Louisa Barrett has made this dazzling city her home. Headmistress of Buffalos most prestigious school, Louisa is at ease in a world of men, protected by the titans of her city. But nothing prepares her for a startling discovery: evidence of a murder tied to the citys cathedral-like power plant at nearby Niagara Falls. This shocking crime--followed by another mysterious death--will ignite an explosive chain of events. For in this city of seething intrigue and dazzling progress, a battle rages among politicians, power brokers, and industrialists for control of Niagara. And one extraordinary woman in their midst must protect a dark secret that implicates them all…


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