A STUDENT OF HISTORY
LitHub “Favorite 50 Books of the Year”
Rick Nagano is a graduate student in the history department at USC, struggling to make rent on his South Los Angeles apartment near the neighborhood where his family once lived. When he lands a job as a research assistant for the elderly Mrs. W–, the heir to an oil fortune, he sees it at first simply as a source of extra cash. But as he grows closer to the iconoclastic, charming, and feisty Mrs. W–, he gets drawn into a world of privilege and wealth far different from his racially mixed, blue-collar beginnings.
Putting aside his half-finished dissertation, Rick sets up office in Mrs. W–‘s grand Bel Air mansion and begins to transcribe her journals–which document an old Los Angeles not described in his history books. He also accompanies Mrs. W– to venues frequented by the descendants of the land and oil barons who built the city. One evening, at an event, he meets Fiona Morgan–the elegant scion of an old steel family–who takes an interest in his studies. Irresistibly drawn to Fiona, he agrees to help her with a project of questionable merit in the hopes he’ll win her favor.
A Student of History explores both the beginnings of Los Angeles and present-day dynamics of race and class. It offers a window into the usually hidden world of high society, and the influence of historic families on current events. Like Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, it features, in Rick Nagano, a young man of modest means who is navigating a world where he doesn’t belong.
PRAISE & REVIEWS
“(A) masterfully intimate and suspenseful tale, fueled by volatile social conflicts. Shrewdly delineated scenes, loaded conversations, and a delirious surge of desire caustically expose the city’s toxic ruling-class legacy of prejudice and entitlement, while stoking questions of privilege, trust, and betrayal. Wealth and power, Revoyr confirms in this taut, commanding, and delectable novel, are not shields against folly, crime, or sorrow.”
—Booklist, starred review
“An entertaining, crisply written tale…evokes echoes of Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, and a lot of Raymond Chandler, but with a thoroughly 21st-century setting. Revoyr’s sleek prose and fast pacing move the reader through the sharply observed world of old money and the bad behavior it protects.”
“A story that’s somewhere between Sunset Boulevard and the darker regions of The Great Gatsby…Revoyr is a subtle observer of human foibles and social structures, and the result is one of the most insightful, and the most entertaining books of the year.”
“Powerful and provocative…With her impeccable narrative pacing and masterful command of Los Angeles’ intricate, evolving dynamics of race and class—Nina Revoyr’s L.A. novels convincingly capture the lifespan of Los Angeles as a major city, none more gracefully than A Student of History.”
—New York Journal of Books
“Nina Revoyr is one of Los Angeles’s most sharp-eyed and penetrating chroniclers, and A Student of History only furthers her reputation. Party mystery, part sentimental education, this is a searing novel of thought-provoking complexity.”
–Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin