Minda’s drunk review of The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros
TW: Rape, antisemitism, murder, homophobia, xenophobia
What I drank prior: I have not been drinking. But now I’ve had a spicy marg, zillions of spiked sparklings and now some red wine—yippee
“An achingly rendered exploration of queer desire, grief, and the inexorable scars of the past.” —Katy Rose Pool, author of There Will Come A Darkness
Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.
Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.
“Chillingly sinister, warmly familiar, and breathtakingly transportive, The City Beautiful is the haunting, queer Jewish historical thriller of my darkest dreams.”—Dahlia Adler, creator of LGBTQreads and editor of That Way Madness Lies
My Summary: Alder is in love with his toomshe. When the World’s Fair comes to his Chicago town, he has high hopes. But all unravels when he learns about his roomies death. And, even worse, his roommate’s spirit inhabit’s his soul and now he had to solve his murder or lose himself all together. Plus, his ex-lover comes back on the scene wanting to figure out the same mystery and now they’re forced back together, even if they have crazy different stances ethically.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: This historical fantasy piece exudes Jewish energy and I loved it. It’s Jewish historical in the era of Chicago’s World’s Fair with fantastical elements in Jewish folklore, which you definitively don’t read about every Day. While the focus on Jewish culture and lore was a stand out of the book, the climax of the murder mystery suffered a bit IMO.
Characters: Alder is our MC and he’s got beef. Kinda. I wish he was a little spicier, but I get who he is. Dead bro/ Yakov/ dybbuk is much more inteterwarinf and I wish we got more
Of his story: back story and alive story. I think it would have added. Frankie is the side hustle main squeeze and I did like him a lot. I like my characters complicated, and he delivered. I could have used him more complex, but he served his purpose Rqziel I also loved. She was amazing and layered, though could have had more backstory. Villains here were all one-dimensional, so not much more to say there.
Plot: TBH the plot is the most I’m unsure about. There was a lot here. One part is being gay during this particular time period. Which IMO isnnever fully embraced. Another is embracing yourself as gay, which I feel was too closely identified with gay rape and murder (personally). Another is the murder mystery, which could have been good, but was fairly buried in the other themes. And then there was also loving your BFF and women’s rights and anti-semitism. And classism. And Jewish-specific classism. And xenophobia. There was literally a lot of things—all of which are important but there are so many of them.
World Building: The Jewish lore and culture was great. I personally learned a lot about it and, even if the word wasn’t one I knew, it was well described. There is also a glossary at the end, which is always appreciated. The setting of the World’s Fair and cultural context of what it was to be an Eastern European Jewish immigrant—let alone one who is gay—during the time period was also strong and clearly well researched. Also noting here the author’s note is worth reading.
Writing Style: it’s all first person from the mc. Which I think take away from the story since this is one (closeted) person’s experience. Frankie or Yakov, or even Raziel’s experiences would have added a lot here.
Drink Pairing: Gin gimlet sounds right