• Karen Frost

Chapter 3: New York City

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is wanting every detail to be as absolutely historically accurate as possible. You don't want your characters eating in a restaurant that wasn't built until twenty years later, you know? This desire for accuracy is how I ended up researching a whole bunch of things for this chapter, including but not limited: food eaten in the 1920s and New York City hotels and restaurants that were open at the time, travelogues by Europeans describing Morocco in the 1910s (ended up skimming Edith Wharton's "In Morocco"), Moroccan tourist destinations, the colonial histories of Canada and Mali, prominent female mathematicians in early 20th century Europe, Marie Curie, a women's college in Kolkata that offered mathematics in the 1910s AND had female professors, the location of New York University campuses in 1923, every pyramid-like structure built outside of Egypt discovered by 1923, France's oldest library, the mummification process, how much limestone was used to build the Great Pyramid at Giza, the history of slavery in North Africa, sexual dimorphism among animal species, and the history of French pastries. Phew. There was a lot to learn, and most of it didn't make it into the book anyway!

Chapter three starts with a musing about the Bibliothèque Mazarine. In fact, per its Wikipedia page, the library is the oldest public library in all of France. Its actual history isn't important, but rather its appearance.

Of course, that's only a tangent because the actual setting for chapter three is a restaurant. I randomly settled on the restaurant in the Hotel Pennsylvania, the Cafe Rouge, after it was listed in the equivalent of a 1929 Zagat guide. I figured it if was open in 1929, it was probably open in 1923. Turns out, by total coincidence, the Hotel Pennsylvania was the largest hotel in the world at the time, which meant its restaurant was the largest hotel restaurant in the world. Talk about coincidence! But it did mean I found a bunch of pictures on Google.

In case I forget to add it during the post about Eliza, according to the book Loyalty in Time of Trial: The African American Experience During World War I, 23 African-American women were sent by the YMCA to work with the 200,000 African-American soldiers stationed in France during and after WWI. They managed leave stations, canteens, and hostess houses. You can read more about it here: So this is what Clara would have been doing in France.

Regarding the history of slavery in Morocco, everything in the text is quite true. France declared Morocco a French protectorate in 1912 and like other European colonial powers in Africa introduced anti-slavery legislation in a piecemeal, gradual fashion. Moroccan judges assumed that since Morocco was a French protectorate and slavery was prohibited in French possessions that slavery was illegal in their country, but it was only in 1925 that a law explicitly prohibiting slavery in Morocco was introduced. Unfortunately, this legacy of slavery means that dark skinned Moroccans (or other Africans living in or traveling to Morocco) often experience discrimination even today.

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