No Crystal Stair

No Crystal Stair

Book - 1997
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This is an absorbing novel that explores an increasingly difficult contemporary reality: functioning as though White while surviving as Black. Marion Willow, a proud young widow, must work at two jobs to ensure that her three girls develop lifestyles not hindered by class and colour. The bitter-sweet experience of Marion's elegant American expatriate neighbour, Torrie Delacourt, could help the girls survive Canada's subtle racism, which, though not legislated, wounds and hems them in. But the women's rivalry for the love of Edmund Thompson, a handsome railway porter, pits them against one another. With humour and sensitivity, 'No Crystal Stair' reveals both the conflict and the human heart of the proud, tightly knit Black community of the Little Burgundy district of Quebec in the mid-forties. It recaptures the days when Montreal was a cosmopolitan hub. It was a city inhabited by jazz musicians, café society, artists, gangsters -- those whose world revolved around Rockhead's Paradise -- and others who clung to the community church at the end of Prohibition, the depression and the anxious years of World War II.
Publisher: Toronto : Moulin Pub., c1997
ISBN: 9780889614512
Branch Call Number: SARSFIE
Characteristics: vii, 247 p. ; 22 cm


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Jul 08, 2017

So I want to say upfront that I read this book mostly because somehow it ended up on my gay reads book list? And uh not to spoil anything, but I did not read any relationships that could be construed as gay, I don't think, unless you're counting the fact that Langston Hughes appears as like a Very Background Character? So if you, like me, had it up on one of those types of lists, uh... not that I could see.

That being said, this is one of those cases where I really really felt like knowing more about Canada in general and Quebec/Montreal in particular would have been helpful? I feel like I've read a lot of reviews where people are like "this is a gross misrepresentation of Black life in Montreal!" and I couldn't tell you if that was true or not. In a lot of ways, it feels like a book that is much older than it is--it was published in 1997, but there's some Baldwin-like aesthetic that Sarsfield really hits on, or maybe the like old melodramas (I'm thinking specifically of Imitation of Life, I think?) I literally flipped to the front matter to see when this book was published like 8 times over the course of reading the book.

But overall, I would say it wasn't a bad book--if that melodrama aesthetic was what Sarsfield was aiming for, I'd say she hit it out of the park in a major way! And if that kind of aesthetic is your thing, you probably really should check out this book! For the rest of us I'd say reading it is not the most necessary thing in the world, but it's not terrible either!

MissAnnie Feb 19, 2013

Evokes the atmosphere of pre-WW II Montreal and gives us an inside view of what is what like to be Black in that City at that time. The characters are proud, resilient and lovable.

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