Nina Revoyr comes to the blog with a story of contrasts, old and new residents, white and other, rich and poor: narrated by Tim Fannon with
A Student of History
Praised for the character embodying the traits seen in The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations, where an outsider is trying to navigate and function within new parameters in a world that is essentially foreign, I found that the comparison was a bit of a reach: particularly concerning Rick’s essentials: he’s obviously different: poor, Asian and an academic, and ‘hired help”. Rick is struggling to make ends meet and puts his dissertation aside to ‘work’ for Mrs. W_, a woman who wants to create her own version of “rising” in the Los Angeles society of well-to-do’s with her ‘status’ being inexorably tied to her oil fortunes, and the rather ‘underhanded without consequence’ of she and her compatriots at the top of the heap, at least monetarily. Rick’s problems start with the rather complex and often contradictory behaviors of Mrs. W_, her statements that are quite frankly untenable while juxtaposed with the support of many of the ‘people’ or ‘situations’ she claims to abhor. From traveling with her to venues and events populated by the ‘elites’, there is a change in Rick – he starts to see himself changing to fit the surroundings, even finding himself drawn to a woman who, on every level, is not a solid match.
What’s most strange about this book and story is the listener’s (ok – my) desire to see if the years of struggle and reality that Rick experienced to this point would ever take over: that his own relative normalcy would start to show and influence those who were raised in privilege, given little to no consequences for bad (often illegal) behavior, or would their lack of concern for others, rules and simple humanity would start to influence how he perceived (and acted) in the world. It’s a toss up with few characters to even tolerate – liking is a step too far – and wanting to see Rick’s morals and upbringing find him a way to exist as himself, despite the differences from the people he was now surrounded by.
Eminently readable, and the listen was spectacular, even as the twists and turns with Rick’s behavior and attitude were often disappointing. From losing his focus and desire for his thesis, to his striving for and struggling with the new environment he found himself in, the narration by Tim Fannon helped to present the struggles, even when it appears that Rick is doing his level best to ignore them all. Not quite a love story, and not a ‘you get yours’ tale of good overcoming bad, the story is complex with many layers and some nuances that are difficult to grasp, but once held help to place yourself, momentarily, in Rick’s place and understand his quandary. It feels very much a coming of age story with some history (actual and perceived by Mrs. W_, and her peculiar slant on “how” the family came to the apex of society. It never quite hit the high notes of Gatsby and his assimilation for me, but the writing and presentation were solid and engaging, and despite not finding a character I’d wanted to cheer on, the complexities and faults of each that displayed their humanity was clear and present and more intriguing for those traits.
Stars: Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4
Title: A Student of History
Author: Nina Revoyr
Genre: Asian-American, Assimilation, Contemporary Elements, Contemporary Literary Fiction, Historic Elements, Setting: American
Narrator: Tim Fannon
Published by: Akashic Books
Published on: 5 March, 2020
Source: Recorded Books
Audio Length: 7 Hours: 22 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ Google ♦Audible ♦Direct from Publisher
Rick Nagano is a graduate student in the history department at USC, struggling to make rent on his South Los Angeles apartment near the neighborhood where his family once lived. When he lands a job as a research assistant for the elderly Mrs. W—, the heir to an oil fortune, he sees it at first simply as a source of extra cash. But as he grows closer to the iconoclastic, charming, and feisty Mrs. W—, he gets drawn into a world of privilege and wealth far different from his racially mixed, blue-collar beginnings.
Putting aside his half-finished dissertation, Rick sets up office in Mrs. W—’s grand Bel Air mansion and begins to transcribe her journals—which document an old Los Angeles not described in his history books. He also accompanies Mrs. W— to venues frequented by the descendants of the land and oil barons who built the city. One evening, at an event, he meets Fiona Morgan—the elegant scion of an old steel family—who takes an interest in his studies. Irresistibly drawn to Fiona, he agrees to help her with a project of questionable merit in the hopes he’ll win her favor.
A Student of History explores both the beginnings of Los Angeles and the present-day dynamics of race and class. It offers a window into the usually hidden world of high society, and the influence of historic families on current events. Like Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, it features, in Rick Nagano, a young man of modest means who is navigating a world where he doesn’t belong.
A copy of this title was provided via Recorded Books for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.