Review: The Great Mrs. Elias, by Barbara Chase-Riboud
I love books of real stories about the darker side of my city. Especially, I love stories about things I didn’t know. This book was not only exciting, it covered ground I was only barely familiar with.
It tells the story of Hannah Elias (née Bessie Davis), a young black woman sex worker, who rises from “nowhere” to become the richest real estate speculator of her day by listening to her clients talk about their financial dealings. Although often accused of “passing” for white, the closest she ever came was letting people believe she was a Cuban national.
One of the most important parts of the book for me was the reminder of just how historically racist New York City actually was — contrary to what many native New Yorkers believe. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to look at, but ignoring or forgetting it will only lead to its perpetuation.
Thank you Ms. Chase-Riboud, for this very exciting look at one of the great failures of my city.