Princess of Park Avenue

Queen of the Underworld

by Gail Godwin

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin.

First, there is a line of people here at XM who want to read this now that I’ve finished. This is a good one. It’s the story of Emma Gant, fresh out of college and ready to take on the world as a reporter at the Miami Star. The year is 1959, and circumstance finds Emma living at a hotel owned and run by — and full of — recent émigrés from Cuba. They left behind their mansions and plantations, sure that the upstart Castro will be gone before the ice in their drinks melt. Godwin made me feel like I was there, from the casual Spanish — she translates most of it — to the sudden violence of hurricane season. Then there are the newsroom characters! And her fear of being exiled to the Siberia of the Broward bureau. Broward is where you’ll find Fort Lauderdale, but back then it was mostly swamp. The ending of the book is rather sudden but I got the feeling that Emma was going to write her own story no matter where she and her reporter’s notebook wound up. Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin.

Imagine you’re a fresh faced college grad in 1959. You grew up poor and smart in North Carolina, and with a little string pulling, your first job is as a reporter for the Miami Star. The big story is Castro’s revolution, and Miami is full of Cuban émigrés and first generation Jews, having recently fled their own European disaster. Emma Gant takes her high school Spanish and reporter’s notebook, and gets to work. It’s the kind of story where during the height of a hurricane, Emma meets the Queen of the Underworld, a notorious beauty queen turned madam, then befriends exiled poets — and Emma’s aunt, well she does work for a dentist, but she seems to be exporting a lot of dental equipment to Cuba from a deserted airfield in the dead of night. And that’s just the first two days. Emma also worries about her married lover, a Jewish hotel and casino owner, and makes friends and enemies at the Miami Star newsroom, which is full of characters as a newroom ought to be. There’s a lot going on in this book, and Godwin is a master at nailing that sense of place and time. The book, Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin.

This is the story of Emma Gant, freshly graduated from college and ready for her first job, a reporter at the Miami Star newspaper. It’s 1959, so Miami is the center of a world of Cuban and Jewish émigrés and Emma is determined to make it her own. The details in this book were what grabbed me — having to wear hose and heels and have your hair just so every day for work even during a hurricane. Her coworkers had that perfect newsroom banter, and of course there were still restrictions based on color at theaters and hotels had only recently allowed Jewish people in, and Broward County was a big swamp and a career dead end.  No surprise that Gail Godwin graduated from Chapel Hill in 1959 and went to work at the Miami Herald, where she was determined, like Emma, not to wind up writing women’s features. This is clearly a time in her life that Godwin relished, and we are lucky she started as a reporter, because she wrote it all down, maybe not just the way it happened, but the way it should have been. Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin. I’m Kim Alexander on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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