- Paperback: 544 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Sept. 1 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416549226
- ISBN-13: 978-1416549222
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 3.6 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 408 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #582,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
City of God: A Novel of Passion and Wonder in Old New York Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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About the Author
Beverly Swerling is a writer, consultant, and amateur historian. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
City of God, City of Glory, City of Dreams are exceptionally well done. Beverly Swerling is a critically acclaimed writer and when you read her stories about the Turner and Devrey families sagas you will know why. She is gifted. Believe, they are to few books out there that I want to re-read and her stories are one of them. They are exciting and fast paced and let you into what New York was like in the very beginning of the late 1700's to early 1800's. You will be hooked.
Threaded in the tapestry of this story of lives lived raw, racial injustice, and Dickensian institutions that abuse the poor--much of it devised by political and religious groups who punish the victims for the crime of being poor. Not unlike some groups in contemporary American life, Ms. Swerling's work portrays the cynicism and hypocrisy (not unlike some of those in our times) in a way that is as fascinating as an auto accident where passerby gawk at things they don't really want to see. Of particular note is the suppression of science and physical fact in the world of medicine of that time.
On the flip side, "City of God" is also a story of love--some won, some lost, and the strivings of people who want to achieve novel ends and create a better world. For those many reasons, Beverly Swerling has given us a splendid book about the good, the beautiful, and, yes, the ugly. It's a book you'll want to tell your best friends about, an experience you'll be glad you had.
Years past and Sam was happily ensconced with his Chinese wife (not in a palace but above a warehouse which she believes is a palace because she can't leave the three rooms they live in or open the curtains), he realized he has a problem. The Devrey's, like their cousins the Turner's (See City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan for the back story") are one of the oldest and most predominate families in New York-and having a half-cast Chinese heir just won't do (Not to mention he doesn't want to share his wife, Plum Blossom or Mei-hua with anyone, or risk her life or figure in childbirth.) So he marries again, this time to a tall blond white woman, Carolina who he finds physically unappealing, but knows that upon her father's death, Carolina will inherit a great deal of money. Money he desperately needs to regain control of his shipping company from John Jacob Astor (See City of Glory: A Novel of War and Desire in Old Manhattan for background details.)
Just as Caroline Devrey gives birth to her first son, Nicholas Turner comes to town to take over the medical treatment at Bellevue hospital, the most corrupt place he has could have ever managed to find. Nick's already ahead of the majority of his profession in that he believes in germs and washes his hands before touching any patient, but he needs a place to do real research- real research including dissections of humans (illegal at the time) to find where disease comes from and how to stop it. At first funds are despaired of, since even to get medicine to a patient at Bellevue requires paying the dubious chemists out of your own pocket and the city council is in no mood to change the ruling structure of the hospital. But after an encounter with Sam and Mei-hua in which he saves the young girl's life, Nick finds his distant cousin, who owns him the life of the woman he loves (and his locked lips on the secrets), can fund his research. Now there's only one problem-he's head over heals in love with his cousin's mistreated, neglected and very much unloved wife Caroline.
Aside from the main plot City of God: A Novel of Passion and Wonder in Old New York incorporates into it the introduction of ether, making surgery painless and decreasing the chances of dying from shock, as well as the first licensed Jewish doctors, some old friends and a very valuable item from "City of Glory", the development of rural Manhattan into a metropolises and the increasing number of religious differences and sects that are popping up all over the island.
It seems like of Swerling's books manage to be different somehow. Shadowbrook: A Novel of Love, War, and the Birth of America (my personal favorite) is an epic love/war story in the spirit of Gone with the Wind "City of Dreams" (second favorite) is a generational epic, which tells the tale of the original feuding between the Devrey's and Turner's (who used to be, incidentally, one family) from the time New York was New Amsterdam. And "City of Glory" was a fast paced thrilled which took place in ten days and had a lot of narrators (too many really.)
If I had to categorize this book then I would say it's kind of a classic "villain who must be crushed novel" with a lot of extra history thrown in. There is no question that Sam Devrey is an extremely unlikable character-even hateful-who destroys, lies to or ruins everything he touches (in spite of his rare good intentions.) But unless the scenes he isn't in include a lot of medical information (which Swerling has always been excellent at making fascinating and disgusting and creating enormous gratitude in this reader that I didn't live back then-in spite of having to deal with HMO's now!)they just aren't that interesting.
I did have a really fun time reading this book, and as with all of Swerling's I had immense difficultly putting it down once I started in. But as of this moment it's my third favorite of her published books-which is saying something considering I worshiped "Shadowbrook" and "City of Dreams." I sincerely hope this isn't the end of Swerling's New York books, because I would LOVE to read once that concentrated on the women's right moments in the early 1900's. Of course I'd also like to see more books like "Shadowbrook"-which though it did have some relatives of the New York families was a completely different sort of book. Actually, you know what, if Beverly Swerling writes it, I'll buy it and read it. Bad economy be dammed.
The only problem I had with this book is that there's a genealogy chart at the beginning which extends well into the more than 20 year time span of the book. This wouldn't be a problem expect it lists liaisons, and children, which would otherwise have been a surprise to the reader. Maybe it should be put in the back of the book next time-then I wouldn't have known that X and Y shack up and have kids before it appears C is dead. (Random example used to protect the characters and prevent spoilers.)
Four point five stars. If this review (or any of my others for Swerling's books) sound remotely appealing to you-then go get all her books right now! I promise you'll love them!
"dog turd pirate father of plum blossom"
"make jade stalk get big and hard"
"his jade stalk was said to be the size of a courtesan's golden lilies"
I immediately went and bought the book thinking, "Early-to-mid 1800s? New York City? Chinglish? This has GOT to be good!" OH MY GOD, you all need to go buy it! This is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. Beverly Swerling isn't even Chinese, but she captures the culture so well, it's almost unbelievable. I can't wait to go buy her others.