26 September 2023

The Gilded Years

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Karin Tanabe, Simon & Schuster, $29.99.

It was the realisation, in part, the novel was to be adapted into a film by American actress and producer Reese Witherspoon and actress-singer Zendaya, that was the first drawcard to The Gilded Years.

The other inducement was the storyline: it’s based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first African-American student to attend the prestigious Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, United States. Since childhood, Anita had longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she was hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita was the only black student ever to attend Vassar.

With her olive complexion and dark hair, she had successfully passed as white, and found herself rooming with Lottie Taylor, an heiress of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Even though Anita kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s domain of influence was unavoidable, her energy appealing, resulting in the two becoming firm friends.

Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman – the person everyone believes her to be. She even finds herself in a heady romance with a well-off Harvard student.

However, the situation becomes dangerous when Lottie becomes curious about Anita’s family. With graduation looming, those closest to Anita will be the ones to precariously threaten her secret.

A captivating historical novel, The Gilded Years is a story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal. It’s a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life. it offers an intriguing insight into life in the U.S. in the early 1900s, with the focus on a brave black woman and her struggle to get an education.

The research has been extensive and the story has potential, but there are some complicated and persuasive issues. While the novel is about a notable, fearless and inspiring lady, a lot of attention is given to the spoiled heir apparent.

Name the exclusive school for women that Anita Hemmings had longed to attend? If the answer is correct, you could be one of two winners to get a copy of The Gilded Years. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 11 April 2022. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 12 April 2022.

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