City of God by Beverly Swerling is an amazing look at life in Old New York in the mid-1800s. I'll start off by saying I loved it and this will be going on my list of favorite reads for 2015. I'm always amazed at the research historical novelists go through to produce their stories and Beverly Swerling doesn't hold back. She paints a detailed backdrop for the characters of the Devrey and Turner families.
During the mid-1800s people headed to New York in droves. There were the European Jews which resulted in the construction of twelve synagogues. The Irish crossed the sea hoping for a better life, but most ended up crammed together in the southern section of Manhattan Island (Five Points). They were blamed for diseases that spread through New York and work ads and boarding houses contained the words "No dogs or Irish allowed". Protestant Evangelists held revivals regularly and the first Catholic nuns appeared on the streets rather than behind the cloister walls. Bellevue Hospital took in the city's poor, but with those in charge skimming money for themselves, little progress was made to improve conditions in the overcrowded and badly run Bellevue hospital. This isn't the first of the series, but I didn't find it necessary to read them in order. I came across this gem at a book sale to benefit our local YMCA. (Note: There are some areas that were a little hard to read, especially about the foot binding of a Chinese woman whose feet were brutally mutilated and bound to stop them from growing. It was thought to be more feminine to have small feet).
From the cover:
The fourth installment in Beverly Swerling's fabulously plotted multigenerational sage of old New York takes the Turner and Devrey families into the clamorous streets of Manhattan on the eve of the nation's searing Civil War. From the hospitals to the bordellos, the gleaming mansions to the teeming slums, and the corrupt councils to the Catholic convents, the city Swerling conjures is rife with romance and intrigue. Heroines and saints, villains and victims, and a vanished New York are made to live again in an intricate tale of old debts and new rivalries.
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