Synopses & Reviews
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…
“Breathtaking...a remarkable blend of murder mystery, love story, political intrigue and tragedy of manners.” USA Today
“An ingenious first novel…alive with historical figures who mingle seamlessly with fictional characters.” The New York Times Book Review
“Wonderful…part murder mystery, part love story.” Chicago Tribune
“Suspenseful…A historical novel of high intrigue.” People
“Get your hands on City of Light, a full-to-the-brim first novel…a straight-through, sleepless read.” Time
“A big novel, full of electricity…Niagara Falls, with currents of romance, suspense and history, cascades through City of Light… a pleasure to read.” The Oregonian
"[An] impressive debut....a stereopticon of a novel, sepia-tinged at the edges yet bursting with color at its center....What matters...is the vivid sense of the time and place that Ms. Belfer has created." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"[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." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"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." Time
The year is 1901. Buffalo, New York, with its booming industry and newly electrified streets, is poised for glory. Headmistress of the city's most prestigious school for girls, Louisa Barrett 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 Buffalo's cathedral-like power plant at nearby Niagara Falls or the shocking chain of events that follows.
About the Author
Lauren Belfer grew up in Buffalo, New York. She received her M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University in New York City, where she now lives with her husband and son. City of Light
is her first novel.
From the Paperback edition.
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?
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?
The year is 1901. Buffalo, New York, stands at the center of the nations attention as a place of immense wealth and sophistication, and its booming industry and newly electrified streets promise to bring the “city of light” even more repute.
Against this rich historical backdrop lives Louisa Barrett, the attractive, articulate headmistress of Buffalos most prestigious school for girls. Protected by its powerful all-male board, “Miss Barrett” is treated as an equal by the men who control the life of the city. Lulled by her unique relationship with these titans of business, Louisa feels secure in her position—until a mysterious death at the power plant triggers a sequence of events that force her to return to a past she has struggled to conceal, and to question everything and everyone she holds dear.
Wrought with remarkable depth and intelligence, this extraordinary novel evokes the culture and conflicts of a time and place with a storytelling power that is unrivaled. The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your groups reading of City of Light by Lauren Belfer. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply fascinating novel.