I love a book that can convincingly transport me to an unfamiliar time or place. Michael Nava did just that in his novel, The City Of Palaces. The time is 1900 and the place is Mexico City. The life of the Spanish aristocracy is being threatened by the uprisings of the indigent throughout the Mexican state. Prejudice is endemic and differences of ANY kind are anathema to the privileged class. Nava's characters inhabit this rarefied world and must adapt, become a catalyst for change, or perish. To Java's credit he created characters that made me care about their choices. Lovers of Downton Abbey should enjoy this book, and appreciate the compelling cast of characters.— Walt
In the years before the Mexican Revolution, Mexico is ruled by a tiny elite that apes European culture, grows rich from foreign investment, and prizes racial purity. The vast majority of Mexicans, who are native or of mixed native and Spanish blood, are politically powerless and slowly starving to death. Presiding over this corrupt system is Don Porfirio Díaz, the ruthless and inscrutable president of the Republic.
Against this backdrop, The City of Palaces opens in a Mexico City jail with the meeting of Miguel Sarmiento and Alicia Gavilán. Miguel is a principled young doctor, only recently returned from Europe but wracked by guilt for a crime he committed as a medical student ten years earlier. Alicia is the spinster daughter of an aristocratic family. Disfigured by smallpox, she has devoted herself to working with the city’s destitute. This unlikely pair—he a scientist and atheist and she a committed Christian—will marry. Through their eyes and the eyes of their young son, José, readers follow the collapse of the old order and its bloody aftermath.
The City of Palaces is a sweeping novel of interwoven lives: Miguel and Alicia; José, a boy as beautiful and lonely as a child in a fairy tale; the idealistic Francisco Madero, who overthrows Díaz but is nevertheless destroyed by the tyrant’s political system; and Miguel’s cousin Luis, shunned as a “sodomite.” A glittering mosaic of the colonial past and the wealth of the modern age, The City of Palaces is a story of faith and reason, cathedrals and hovels, barefoot street vendors and frock-coated businessmen, grand opera and silent film, presidents and peasants, the living and the dead.
Winner, International Latino Book Award for Latino Fiction, Latino Literacy Now
Second place, International Latino Book Award for Historical Fiction, Latino Literacy Now
Finalist, Gay Fiction, Lambda Literary Awards
Honorable Mention in Drama, Latino Books into Movies Award, International Latino Book Awards
Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
Outstanding Book, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
About the Author
Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of seven crime novels featuring Henry Rios, a gay Latino criminal defense lawyer. The series has won six Lambda Literary Awards. In 2001 he received the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award in LGBT literature. A native Californian and the grandson of Mexican immigrants, Nava lives near San Francisco.
“An extraordinary portrait of one of the most critical periods in Mexico’s history. Nava breathes life into the stories of political, cultural, and social revolutionaries as they navigate change in their country and within themselves. This is a breakthrough novel.”—Rigoberto González, author of Autobiography of My Hungers
“City of Palaces begins as the love story of two good people, a Catholic and an atheist, who find each other in the corrupt world of belle epoch Mexico City. It grows into a magnificent epic about family, politics, art, revolution, and hope. This is a masterly work of old-fashioned storytelling, rich and spacious and moving, a novel that deserves to be compared to The Leopard, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Doctor Zhivago, but with its own intimacy and grandeur. I fell in love with these people and did not want to say goodbye to them.”—Christopher Bram, author of Exiles in America
“This first novel in the author’s ‘Children of Eve’ series begins to untangle a tight knot of political and historical intrigue surrounding the Mexican Revolution.”—Stanford