The Gilded Years

  • by Karin Tanabe
  • Narrated by Janina Edwards
  • 11 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Passing meets The House of Mirth in this "utterly captivating" (Kathleen Grissom, New York Times best-selling author of The Kitchen House) historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar, who successfully passed as white - until she let herself grow too attached to the wrong person.
Since childhood Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country's most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that should have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, the daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white and now finds herself rooming with Louise "Lottie" Taylor, the scion of one of New York's most prominent families.
Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie's sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it's like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman - the person everyone believes her to be - and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It's only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita's brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister's, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita's college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.
Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written a pause-resisting and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal - and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Intriguing Story

The story was fabulous! It caused me to do a little research of my own on 'passing'.

The pronunciation of the word 'Massachusetts' was extremely annoying! So much so, that I cringed when I expected it to come up in the story and almost stopped listening. If there is anyway to return this to the studio to have the word pronounced properly and sans lisp, it would be greatly appreciated!
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- Leanna Range

wonderful historical fiction

Would you listen to The Gilded Years again? Why?

If i ever re-listened to a book this would qualify. I loved it but since the story will stay with me a long time i'm not sure i need to listen again


What did you like best about this story?

loved the guts of a black woman to be the first to graduate from Vassar. the struggles to maintain the facade of a black woman in a white world were obviously intense. clearly the prejudices of the gentried class stood in her way but her will trumped all and she achieved her goal despite a vindictive roommate. sad it took so long for Vassar and other prestigious universities to admit women of color


Which scene was your favorite?

lots of great senes but i think the one where she meets her to be husband when they could both truly share how they felt living in a prejudiced world


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

no extreme reactions - the historical aspect of it was wonderful. didn't laugh or cry though i was sad to find out at the end they chose to live as white - to the point where their own children didn't even know of their black heritage. and her parents never spoke to them again. after all Anita achieved i hoped she and her husband would break down barriers and prove to the world their worth, not just as black but as people equal to everyone else


Any additional comments?

it's a great book - well written and beautiful imagery. a little Downton Abbey with the NY mansions descriptions (which were embellished as the author admits after the book ends)

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- Barbara

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-07-2016
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio