Author: Rebecca Rotert
Publisher: William Morrow
Type of book: Kansas, 1950s, 1965, Chicago, mother/daughter relationship, nuclear war, survival, anxiety, singing, jazz, performance, talent, experimenting with sex and sexuality, rags to riches, friendships, misfit family
Year it was published: 2014
Set against the turbulence of 1960s Chicago, a city in transformation and its legendary jazz scene, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a lush and immensely heartfelt mother-daughter tale about a talented but troubled singer relationship with her precocious ten-year-old daughter.
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War and Vietnam but it is also home to some of the country's most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.
As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother's desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Unsettled by her home life, she harbors a terrible fear that her world could disappear at any moment, and compulsively maintains a list of everyday objects she might need to reinvent should nuclear catastrophe strike. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds her and her mother, particularly the photographer, Jim, who is Sophia's best friend, surrogate father and protector but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.
Weaving between the perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a poignant and unforgettable story about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. Part stylish period piece, part heartbreaking family drama, it's a novel rife with revelations, a vivid and propulsive page-turner and the major debut of an extraordinary new writer.
Naomi Hutnik (Hill,) is the main character, a neglected daughter of Polish immigrants who has no choice but to leave the town after making a mistake and due to friendships she makes along the way, she eventually makes it to her destination where she has Sophia. Sophia is the anxious and loving daughter of Naomi who fears nuclear war and keeps a list of people and things she wants to invent after the said event happens. She is ten going on eleven. There is also Sister who seems to understand what Naomi is going through and acts as a helper and mentor to her. David is Naomi's friend's elder brother and is also in love with her. Jim is Naomi's friend, sometimes lover and is more of a real father for Sophia rather than her other characters surround her. There are other characters such as Elizabeth, an African-American friend of Sophia plus Hilda, Rita and some others, but I feel that they don't play a big role as the ones I mentioned.
I honestly have no idea what I should have learned; maybe that parenting isn't for everyone, and sometimes non-biological people make the best parents?
The book is written in first person narrative from Sophia's and Naomi's points of view. Its also divided into six parts, where the first half focuses on Sophia and on 1965, while the second half focuses on Naomi getting to Chicago from Kansas and takes place in 1950s. I enjoyed the language and the writing style, although the dialogue is italicized and quotation marks aren't used. I also am confused about certain characters' sexuality, that is are they bisexual or homosexual? Although the author attempted to make some characters bisexual, I didn't really get a sense of them being bisexual.
About Rebecca Rotert
Rebecca Rotert received an M.A. in Literature from Hollins College, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her poetry and essays have appeared in a range of magazines and journals. She’s an experienced singer and songwriter, who has performed with several bands, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. This is her first novel.
Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RebeccaRotert.Opinion:
For some odd reason, while I was reading this book, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to White Oleander. While I didn't like White Oleander due to too many similes as well as complicated mother/daughter relationship, I feel that this is the better version of White Oleander, sort of. For some odd reason, I can't help but think that Naomi Hill is the daughter from White Oleander, and this is how that daughter turned out to be. The book is well-written, vibrant and beautiful. I wish that there were more details about Naomi, although part of me can understand her, sort of. What was also of interest to me is that an African-American family seems to have an "ordinary" life, while those from Kansas and from Naomi's circle have an exhausting and painful life. One thing I should mention is that if you aren't comfortable with cross-dressing or same sex sexuality, then I might not advise for the book to be read.
This is for TLC Book Tour
Rebecca’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, July 1st: Drey’s Library
Thursday, July 3rd: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, July 4th: Sweet Southern Home
Monday, July 7th: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, July 8th: Books in the Burbs
Monday, July 14th: Becca Rowan
Tuesday, July 15th: BookNAround
Wednesday, July 16th: Books à la Mode
Wednesday, July 16th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, July 17th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
TBD: The Written World4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)