Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin
I am fascinated by the role of prostitution as it pertains to women’s history because until the end of the 19th century, the only real profession for lower-class women were servants, teachers or prostitutes. Plus prostitutes in the 19th century in Europe at least played such an interesting role in art, but I digress. Mary was an interesting character and it was intriguing to see the world of a prostitute through her eyes, as it is usually seen through the eyes of the customer. Her story was particularly captivating as she rose from a common lady of the night to a woman of high stature in that community. I loved the vintage photographs of the area at the beginning of each chapter, as they really helped visualize the setting of the story and its characters. My only big gripe was that story focused so much on her beginnings, and I would’ve really wanted to know more about Storyville and her time there.
Mary Deubler is a poor prostitute working on Venus Alley in New Orleans in 1897. Mary wants more than this profession that her mother had before her, for herself and her brother, sister-in-law and unborn niece. However, her growth is stifled by a overbearing pimp named Lobrano. She finally gets her chance to move up in the world after a politician decides to create a separate area (later nicknamed Storyville) for the prostitutes and bars, away from decent folk. Seemingly overnight, she is transformed from the worn-down Mary Deubler into the nearly respectable Madame Josie Arlington, in charge of her own bordello.
The authors have done a great job of really making you feel like you are in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, trudging down the dirty back alleys with the bars and whores and their johns. You can almost hear Buddy Bolden playing his trumpet with his band, or Ferdinand De Menthe (or Jelly Roll Morton as he will soon become) tickling the ivories. You could walk into the shop of Eulalie Echo, the Voodoo priestess, for remedies or curses. I enjoyed the character of E.J. Belloq, the famous photographer, who helped publicize Storyville to the visitors to The Big Easy. I had no idea that people in New Orleans during that time period were open to allowing Creoles (a mix of French, African and Spanish) to mix with white society, or at least more so than regular mixed-race people. 4 stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.