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Here at last is the eagerly awaited new novel from New York Times bestselling author Gail Godwin. Queen of the Underworld is sweeping and sultry literary fiction, featuring a memorable young heroine and engaging characters whose intimate dramas interconnect with hers.
In the summer of 1959, as Castro clamps down on Cuba and its first wave of exiles flees to the States to wait out what they hope to be his short-lived reign, Emma Gant, fresh out of college, begins her career as a reporter. Her fierce ambition and belief in herself are set against the stories swirling around her, both at the newspaper office and in her downtown Miami hotel, which is filling up with refugees.
Emma’s avid curiosity about life thrives amid the tropical charms and intrigues of Miami. While toiling at the news desk, she plans the fictional stories she will write in her spare time. She spends her nights getting to know the Cuban families in her hotel–and rendezvousing with her married lover, Paul Nightingale, owner of a private Miami Beach club.
As Emma experiences the historical events enveloping the city, she trains her perceptive eye on the people surrounding her: a newfound Cuban friend who joins the covert anti-Castro training brigade, a gambling racketeer who poses a grave threat to Paul, and a former madam, still in her twenties, who becomes both Emma’s obsession and her alter ego. Emma’s life, like a complicated dance that keeps sweeping her off her balance, is suddenly filled with divided loyalties, shady dealings, romantic and professional setbacks, and, throughout, her adamant determination to avoid “usurpation” by others and remain the protagonist of her own quest.
In the summer of 1959, plucky North Carolinian Emma Gant escapes overbearing parents to begin her career as a reporter at the Miami Star. Lodged at the colorful Julia Tuttle Hotel (a fictional Florida property named after Miami's real-life founder), Emma meets a group of Cuban families who've recently fled Fidel Castro. Emma spends her days learning the ropes as a reporter and her nights bantering (in broken Spanish) with the eclectic group of exiles. She also arranges rendezvous with her married lover, Paul, an innkeeper largely responsible for her decision to move South. Godwin, a three-time National Book Award nominee, taps into her experiences as a fledgling Florida journalist to render a tale whose ambling, amiable plot is redeemed by a cast of memorable characters. Among them are an arms-smuggling dentist, a diminutive German perfumer, a nefarious reporter with an "overall gleaming effect," and a distinguished academic who flees Cuba with his memoir stitched into his wife's wedding dress. Topping the list of provocative personalities is Ginevra Brown, aka the Queen of the Underworld, a former Miami madam once betrothed to a mobster. Readers who can't get enough Godwin can snap up the first installment of her two-volume memoir, The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961 1963, also due out this month (and reviewed on p. 44).