First off I want to thank Rebecca Rotert for skyping with our book club, it was an amazing discussion and experience, and Book Club Girls, for providing us with copies of Last Night at the Blue Angel and making our skype discussion possible. I would probably not have picked up this book on my own and I am so thankful that I was made aware of it. I loved, loved, loved this book!
Last Night at the Blue Angel, starts out from Sophia’s point of view with the opening line, “Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margin.” (I just love that line!). Naomi, is a single mother of, 10 year old Sophia, trying to advance her career in the Chicago jazz scene of 1965. The book alternates between Sophia’s voice and that of a younger Naomi. This was effective in letting the reader see how Naomi came to be the woman who is Sophia’s mother.
One of the wonderful things I loved about this book and one that we discussed with the author, was her portrayal of the catholic nuns. So many times in fiction nuns are portrayed as harsh and uncaring, to sometimes almost evil and sadistic. Rebecca Rotert portrays the nuns in her book as loving and supportive givers of wisdom and guidance. These women are shown as wonderful support systems to young people who may not have other adults paying attention to them. Ms. Rotert shared with us in our skype discussion that she herself was surrounded by nuns like these throughout her schooling and owed a great deal to them. She wanted to pay tribute to those women who inspired her.
Many of the characters in the book are living alternative lifestyles, Rotert is able to portray them as multidimensional characters without making the story about our differences but about our commonalities. These characters may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or straight but that is just one aspect of who they are, it is not the whole story. This is something that is so needed today.
The story is about families and what makes a family, It’s about having desires that don’t necessarily fit the life you have, but I think ultimately it’s about the need to be seen and heard and loved.
This book opened up our book club to discussing issues of gender and sexuality, race issues, Chicago of the 1960s, women’s rights, community and so much more. I would highly recommend this for any book club, you won’t be disappointed.
There are wonderful resources and additional information at the back of the book that are very interesting and helpful towards a discussion.
There is a list of the songs Naomi may have sung and inspired her. I have made a spotify playlist of these and it was quite enjoyable listening to them as I read the book.
For discussion questions and additional material check our Last Night at the Blue Angel page