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THE CITY BEAUTIFUL
by Aden Polydoros
Inkyard Press, January 2021
480 pages
$19.99
ISBN: 1335402500


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE CITY BEAUTIFUL seems an unusual title for a historical novel set in 1890s Chicago, amidst the utter hell of immigrant life in the meatpacking district. The Windy City seems to offer little beauty to Alter Rosen, a young Romanian Jewish immigrant who is trying desperately to earn enough money to bring his mother and child sisters out of the reach of Eastern Europe's wave of anti-Semitic violence--and that's before he learns from an obnoxious matchmaker that young Jewish men have been disappearing. Maybe they have run away.

When the one light in Alter's life, his roommate Yakov, sets off for the World's Fair and then washes up dead, Alter determines that the disappearances are murders and that he must solve Yakov's. His secret weapon? He has mystical powers, appropriately for someone named 'Alter', which refers to boundary-crossing. Visions and nightmares -- some of Yakov, some more abstract - make him the only person likely to have the will and ability to unveil the murderer and motive. These visions are among the most beautifully written, memorable aspects of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL, surrealistically narrated in ways that magnify Alter's emotional landscape, blotting out the brutal pragmatism of the city that surrounds him.

As Aden Polydoros's rich urban mystery progresses, Alter finds himself testing more earthly boundaries. He is caught up in an Oliver-Twist-like thieving ring by his significantly more cosmopolitan friend Frankie, with whom he gradually finds himself in love. Can Alter find out what is happening to the vanished young men and reconcile two equally true and important aspects of himself, his Jewish -- Orthodox Jewish -- and gay identities?

Like the British novelist Sarah Waters, Aden Polydoros unearths lost LGBT history via the medium of gripping mystery fiction. Polydoros builds an eminently believable, riveting fin-de-siecle Chicago. Like Alter's imagination, Polydoros's raises the dead and answers submerged questions. Impeccably researched, THE CITY BEAUTIFUL takes the reader on a tour of Chicago history that includes labor struggles, anarchists, Chicago's rise as a global city, and anti-immigrant and anti-semitic hatred that doesn't make it into many high school history textbooks.

It's worth nothing that THE CITY BEAUTIFUL is marketed as a young adult novel, for readers age 13-17, and is certainly accessible to that demographic. However, it is a must-read for not-so-young adults, too. Like Angeline Boulley's bestselling 2019 young adult mystery FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER, THE CITY BEAUTIFUL has something important to say that mainstream mystery ignores. In short, Polydoros's novel is a fascinating and important ghost-story, not least because its ghosts, desperate to be heard and seen, are real and make their city beautiful.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, December 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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