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Nina Revoyr’s New Novel: ‘A Student of History’

“A Student of History” by Nina Revoyr will be released by Akashic Books on March 5.

A contemporary Los Angeles story of uncrossable social lines, allegiance and betrayal, immeasurable power, and the ways the present is continuously shaped by the past.

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.

Nina Revoyr (Photo by Monica Almeida)

“A Student of History” explores both the beginnings of Los Angeles and the 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.

Revoyr is the author of five previous novels, including “The Age of Dreaming,” which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; “Southland,” a Los Angeles Times best-seller and “Best Book” of 2003; and “Wingshooters,” which won an Indie Booksellers Choice Award and was selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.” Revoyr lives and works in Los Angeles.

Author events:

March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

March 12 at 7 p.m. City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco

March 14 at 7 p.m. at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 Tenth Ave., Seattle

March 27, reception at 6 p.m., reading at 6:45 p.m., at Santa Monica College’s Literary Series, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica

April 13, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, USC

The March 7 and 12 events will also celebrate the reissue of her book “The Necessary Hunger.”

What people are saying about “A Student of History”:

“Masterfully and intimately suspenseful . . . Shrewdly delineated scenes, loaded conversations, and a delirious surge of desire caustically expose [Los Angeles’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.” — Kirkus Reviews

“[A] fantastic read . . . On the afternoon this novel arrived on my doorstep . . . I opened the package and read the first page out of curiosity and then . . . kept reading. I never did finish my book club book but I did finish this novel the next day.” — Wildmoo Books

“Nina Revoyr is one of Los Angeles’s most sharp-eyed and penetrating chroniclers, and ‘A Student of History’ only furthers her reputation. Part mystery, part sentimental education, this is a searing novel of thought-provoking complexity.” — Marisa Silver, author of “Mary Coin”

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