Monday 19 June 2017

At First Light - Vanessa Lafaye

1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.

1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what's right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town...

Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.

What did I think?

I have fond memories of Vanessa Lafaye's debut, Summertime, that I reviewed quite some time ago, so I positively jumped at the chance to read an early copy of her new novel, At First Light.  As with Summertime, this is another novel based on real events that has you screaming in anger, clapping in delight and sobbing with devastation.  Vanessa Lafaye is such a wonderfully talented author who creates such depth in her writing that ensures the characters bore into your very soul and remain there until the end of your days.

Alicia arrives in Key West on the boat from Cuba, somewhat under a cloud, although we need to invest a bit of time in the story before we learn the reason for her exile.  She has come to live with her cousin, Beatriz, and work in her tea rooms but Alicia is shocked to find that her cousin answers to the name of Pearl and isn't known for serving tea in her establishment.

Also arriving in Key West is John Morales, returning from war in Europe.  He finds much has changed in Key West as he returns to his rightful place behind the bar of The Last Resort, the establishment he owns right next door to Pearl's Tea Rooms.  With such a close proximity to Alicia it isn't long before the pair fall in love and their story is as tragic as it is poignant because Alicia is brown and John is white.  In an era when the Ku Klux Klan were sweeping America there are many who will strive to tear John and Alicia apart, using any means necessary, but theirs is a love that is destined never to die.

At First Light is another masterpiece from the pen of Vanessa Lafaye.  It is shocking and heartbreaking to learn that this is based on a true story which makes it all the more poignant.  I had goosebumps reading certain passages and applaud Vanessa Lafaye for bringing this period of history to light.  In the current day and age of so much uncertainty and innumerable prejudices, it's a story that will resonate with so many people.  An absolutely breathtaking masterpiece that will be going on my read again pile.  Very highly recommended - I want to give it more than 5 stars!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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