Cover image for City of light
City of light
Belfer, Lauren.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me : Thorndike Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
850 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Newstead Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Alden Ewell Free Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Clarence Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Collins Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
East Delavan Branch Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
North Collins Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Eggertsville-Snyder Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Frank E. Merriweather Library X Adult Large Print Large Print
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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1901 Buffalo, New York was a city on the rise -- a place of wealth and sophistication. It is in this place and time that Louisa Barrett is headmistress of the Macaulay School for Girls. Miss Barrett is treated as an equal by the all-male school board and the men who run the city itself. She feels secure in her position until a mysterious death takes place at the city's power plant. Now Louisa must venture into the past she has struggled to conceal and to question everything and everyone she holds dear...

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In 1901, Buffalo, New York, is thriving: a hydroelectric power station is poised to use the water of Niagara Falls to light the nation, and the city fathers are planning a Pan-American Exposition. The 36-year-old Louisa Barrett, headmistress of the Macaulay School for Girls, is accepted as an equal by Buffalo's wealthy and powerful leaders. The intellectual and artistic elite of the city flock to Louisa's home for her regular salons. Although her best friend, Margaret Sinclair, recently passed away, Louisa has a close and loving relationship with Margaret's nine-year-old daughter, Grace. But when two men die under suspicious circumstances at the Niagara power station run by Margaret's widower, Tom, Louisa is forced to examine her own past and question not only her allegiances but also the choices she has made. Using both real and imagined characters, Belfer examines an early skirmish in the war between conserving and exploiting natural resources, the sexual double standard, and racial prejudice in a northern city at the turn of the century. --Nancy Pearl

Publisher's Weekly Review

A gift for social nuance and for authoritatively controlled narration shapes this compelling debut, which sets one young woman's extraordinary fate against the backdrop of the political struggles over the burgeoning electric industry as it began to harness the power of Niagara Falls at the turn of this century. Louisa Barrett, headmistress of a prestigious girls' seminary in Buffalo, N.Y., operates in the city's social circles with a freedom generally not accorded to other women. People assume her to be "without passion or experience," she observes, and she proceeds to tell her story with the clarity and restraint of a Jane Austen heroine. Louisa gradually reveals the great secret and sorrow of her life: having been raped by a high-powered politician (readers will gasp at the implications of his identity), Louisa secretly gave birth to a daughter nine years earlier, and arranged for the baby's adoption by her best friend, Margaret Sinclair, who has recently died. When Louisa visits her daughter Grace's father, Tom Sinclair, the idealistic businessman spearheading the building of the newest powerhouse at the Falls, she overhears an exchange between Tom and a famous engineer that arouses suspicion when the first of two murders of power company engineers occurs soon afterward. The city is embroiled in a battle between environmental preservationists protesting the diversion of Niagara's waters, and industrialists inspired by the benefits of electricity, and Louisa begins to understand the desperate measures to which each side will resort. Meanwhile, she is poised for a time to choose between two men: a prominent reporter who falls in love with her, and Tom, marriage to whom would make her legally Grace's mother. Belfer's delineation of society's power structure, deftly portrayed in the controversy over the Falls and the city fathers' preparations for the Pan-American Exposition, undergird a many-layered zinger of a conclusion. The rich mix of fictional and historical figures includes a family from Buffalo's black middle class, presidents Cleveland and McKinley, and immigrant power-station workers who risk life and limb. With the assurance of an established writer, Belfer delivers a work of depth and polishÄan unsentimentalized story complete with dangerous liaisons, gorgeous descriptions of the Falls and a central character whose voice is irresistible to the last page of her tragic story. $200,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; simultaneous BDD audio; author tour; foreign rights sold in U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Sweden. (May) FYI: Belfer has been selected for B&N's Discover New Writers program. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In "the city of light"--Buffalo at the turn of the century--headmistress Louisa Barrett walks a tightrope between her ideals and the demands of the wealthy class she serves. Through her we get a panoramic view of the city's classes--but we're also drawn into Louisa's struggles. What's remarkable about this grand, thundering novel is its ease in balancing the social and the personal. (LJ 5/1/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



On the first Monday in March 1901, in the early evening when  the sound of sleigh bells filled the air, a student unexpectedly knocked at my  door. I was accustomed to receiving visitors on Mondays before dinner, when my  drawing room was transformed into a salon. Bankers and industrialists would  stop by my comfortable stone house attached to the Macaulay School, knowing  they would find professors and artists, editors and architects. In those days, Buffalo was flush in an era of extraordinary economic  prosperity and civic optimism. The city had become the most important inland port in America because of its pivotal location at the eastern end of the Great  Lakes.Indeed, at the turn of our century, Buffalo had taken its place among the great cities of the United States. Many of the visitors to my salon were from New York City or Chicago, men who came to Buffalo at the behest of our  public-spirited business leaders to offer their best work to the city.  These included architects Louis Sullivan and Stanford White; sculptors Augustus  Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. Years ago I met architect Daniel  Burnham and he invited himself for sherry with a man whose name I now forget,  and came again on his next visit to Buffalo. Soon they all came, presenting  their cards with a note: "At the suggestion of our mutual  friend . . ." Then the local people of distinction, with such  family names as Rumsey, Albright, and Scatcherd, sensing an opportunity, came  calling too. They could do this only because I was considered unmarriageable. Because I was  a kind of "wise virgin"--an Athena, if you will--these men  granted me my freedom and I granted them theirs. Of course there were women at  my salon--doctors, architects, artists. Those who had husbands came with  them; those who did not came alone, or with the other women who were their life  companions. I liked to think that my Monday evening salon was the only place in the city where men and women could mingle as equals. The married and marriageable women  of the upper reaches of the town were hidden away, given little room for  interests beyond clothes, children, entertaining, and a bit of work among the  poor. They led a limited life, which filled me with sadness and which I tried  at Macaulay to change. Ieducated the young women placed in my care--the daughters of power and  wealth--to expect more. I liked to think that I'd trained a generation of  subversives who took up their expected positions in society and then, day by day, bit by bit, fostered a revolution. In the past two years, the stream of visitors to my salon had become ever more  fascinating and their concerns ever more urgent as they planned the design and  construction of a world's fair called the Pan-American Exposition. Yes,  Buffalo was to be an exposition city now, in the tradition of Philadelphia and  Chicago. The Pan-American would celebrate the commercial links between  North and South America as well as America's technological breakthroughs,  particularly in the area of electricity, which was being developed at nearby Niagara Falls. Most important, the Pan-American's very existence symbolized  and confirmed Buffalo's new, vital place in the nation. The exposition site was less than a mile from my home, and over eight  million people from around the country and the world were expected to visit the  fair during the coming summer. Debates about lighting, coloring, and schematic  statuary took place before my fire, the gentlemen tapping their pipes against  the mantel. Sometimes they called my gatherings a "saloon" instead of a  salon, as if they were visiting the Wild West and I were Annie Oakley. I tried  not to show them how much their teasing pleased me. But on this particular Monday evening in March, I sent my visitors away by  seven. There was a wet snow falling and a chill dampness in the air that made  me want to be alone in front of the fire. My guests grumbled halfheartedly,  though some of them were privately grateful, no doubt, to return home; here on  the shores of Lake Erie we respected the icy storms of early spring. And  although they might not admit it, morethan a few of my out-of-town visitors probably yearned to leave business behind  and move on to a relaxing game of whist in the mahogany-paneled  confines of the all-male Buffalo Club.a] Even so, exposition president John Milburn was chagrined to be forced to cut off his conversation with chief architect John Carrere. "You're  sending us out to talk in the snow?" he queried in the hallway. "Absolutely," I replied. "You should walk the exposition grounds in the snow and evaluate your work right there--much better altogether." The men  laughed as they gathered their coats and made their way out the door. After they were gone, I sat in my rocking chair, resting my head,  luxuriating in the evening. Then in the quiet, I heard my favorite sound:  sleigh bells jingling on harnesses as the horses trotted down Bidwell Parkway,  sleigh gliders swishing through the snow. At this hour, bejeweled couples  cloaked in fur against the cold were on their way to dinner parties; snowstorms  were never permitted to interfere with the social swirl. Closing my eyes, I  conjured a scene in my mind: a dining room with French doors and a coffered  ceiling, a long table laid for twelve, freshly polished silver, candlelight  throwing rainbows through the crystal. I was forever apart from that life,  observing it, never living it. Nonetheless I pictured myself reclining on a  sleigh, the harness bells dancing, a bison skin pulled around me for warmth as  snowflakes touched my face and I was carried to dinner at the estate of John J. Albright or Dexter P. Rumsey. A knock at the front door intruded on my thoughts. Not wanting to be rude to latecomers, I rose and went into the hall. My Polish housekeeper, Katarzyna, had already opened the door, but she had not welcomed the visitor. "People gone now. Visiting time finished," she said with a cut of her hand,  as if to shoo the caller away. The reason for her behavior was clear: One of my students was at the door,  peering around Katarzyna to find me. Millicent Talbert, age thirteen,  mature-looking for heryears but possessed of an innocence and earnestness which at school made her  the one who always missed the jokes. "Miss Barrett?" There was a hint of the Middle West in her speech. Millicent was an orphan who  had come to Buffalo from Ohio to live with her aunt and uncle, who had adopted  her. In the unlit doorway, Millicent was a shadow against the white of the  evening. "I'm sorry, Miss Barrett, I don't want to bother you, but--" She paused,  glancing at Katarzyna. "May I speak with you? Just you, I mean. I watched from  the corner and waited until everyone left, really I did, Miss Barrett, I  didn't want to disturb you. I didn't want to cause trouble." From the Paperback edition. Excerpted from City of Light by Lauren Belfer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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