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Date finished: June 30, 2019

Rating: ★★★★★

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert

The author who penned the #1 New York Times bestseller Eat, Pray, Love returned to the literary spotlight this summer with the release of City of Girls, a sweeping historical fiction tale set around World War II. Despite the time period in which it’s set, Gilbert manages to make this story sparkle without skimming over the difficulties of death, war, and loss. City of Girls is up there with Daisy Jones & The Six as the best historical fiction I’ve read this year.

At 95 years old, Vivian Morris, the novel’s narrator, looks back on her life starting at the age of 19 with wonder, pride, and a touch of regret. After dropping out of Vassar, young Vivian’s parents send her to New York City to spend some time with her aunt, who — like Vivian — never quite fit the mold of a proper young woman.

Aunt Peg, her secretary, Olive, and her eclectic band of showgirls, actors, and theater staff entrance Vivian immediately, and she soon embarks on a summer of freedom, independence, and debauchery.

Vivian takes a liking to showgirl Celia, and Celia shows Vivian the hidden pleasures of being a woman, from sex and drinking to taking advantage of men to get the best of both. She, along with Edna Parker Watson, a displaced British actress, provide Vivian with an education in real life, and she, in return, dresses them in the most beautiful handmade gowns for their roles in City of Girls, a play premiering at Aunt Peg’s theater.

As time progresses, Vivian tells of the outrageous success of City of Girls, her choices (some good and some bad), the influence of the war, and the ways in which she grows into a woman amid the lights and glamour of New York City.

Gilbert’s characters are memorable and wonderful, and each plays an important role in Vivian’s life. The various aspects of the story are captivating and well-detailed, and I ached for Vivian in her moments of ignorance and distress. While a world away from Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert shines on the fiction stage, and City of Girls is well worth a read. Five stars.

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