July 2014 Indie Next List
“The life of a sultry jazz singer in 1965 Chicago is beautifully evoked in this touching novel. Rotert alternates her narrative between Naomi, the singer, detailing how she got to Chicago in the 1950s, and the singer's somewhat neglected 10-year-old daughter, Sophia. Sophia finds a paternal figure in Naomi's most enduring suitor, the photographer Jim. Their makeshift family, along with a runaway nun, a transvestite, and a Polish emigre, try forge an existence while chasing stardom, but Naomi's past keeps dragging them down. Rotert's vivid descriptions of the tawdry jazz clubs and the deserted buildings that Jim photographs bring a sense of immediacy to this tale.”
— Arsen Kashkashian, The Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO
Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles "Rules of Civility" with the emotional depth and drama of "The Memory Keeper's Daughter," about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War but it is also home to one of the country's most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives the cover of "Look" magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.
For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi a situation that adds to Sophia's anxiety.
Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia's struggle for her mother's love with Naomi's desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.
Sophisticated yet poignant, "Last Night at the Blue Angel" is an unforgettable tale about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. It is a story ripe with surprising twists and revelations, and an ending that is bound to break your heart.
About the Author
Rebecca Rotert received an M.A. in literature from Hollins College, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. She's also an experienced singer and songwriter, who has performed with several bands, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. This is her first novel.