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The Gilded Years

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  5,355 ratings  ·  672 reviews
Passing meets The House of Mirth in this “utterly captivating” (Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling 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
Paperback, 379 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Washington Square Press
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Karin Hi Pat,

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Hi Pat,

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Mar 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm having a difficult time formulating my thoughts on "The Gilded Years." The novel is based on the true story of the first black woman to graduate from Vasser by "passing" as white. The story of Anita Hemings is fascinating and I love this time period: the gas lamps, the tremendous wealth of families like the Vanderbilt's, the customs and manners of the day juxtaposed against severe poverty, racial and gender inequality, lack of modern medicine, etc. there is just something lacking in this nov ...more
Book Riot Community
This charming, thoughtful, and affecting book tells the story of the first black woman to attend Vassar. That she attended as a white woman, passing and always at risk of exposure, drives the plot and allows Tanabe to tell a rich, complicated story about race, gender, education, love, and belonging in the Gilded Age. Give The Gilded Years a try if you’re drawn to any of the following: historical fiction, Edith Wharton, the history of women’s colleges, Nella Larsen, passing as a literary device a ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having received an early copy of this book, I can say without reservation that if you like historical fiction, The Gilded Years is a must read. Anita Hemmings, the first African-American to graduate from Vassar College, has a story that should be widely known, yet until now she has passed through the annals of US History with little fanfare. Thankfully, author Karin Tanabe has made a giant step in rectifying this error of omission with an insightful, poignant novel about one woman straddling two ...more
Great topic. Disappointing book.

The Gilded Years brings us a fascinating subject: Anita Hemmings, daughter of a mulatto janitor in Boston, graduated from the exclusive female-only Vassar college in 1897, while passing as white. Cum laude student, proficient in seven languages, a coveted soprano, popular and class beauty, she successfully hid her secret until her roommate broke her story near graduation. She was allowed to graduate, but her story and her beautiful photo kept the interest of news
I've never heard of Anita Hemmings, which is a shame because I grew up an African African woman living so close to Vassar College. I wished for this to have more historical and biographical fiction but the author Tanabe writes so beautifully, I was still very enthralled in the book.I love her style of writing, outside of more personal history of Ms. Hemmings this book was a fantastic read
Brilliant in its possibilities, unfortunately "The Gilded Years" did not fulfill its potential, aside from bringing attention to the notable story of the Afro-American woman and Vassar graduate Anita Hemmings, beginning in 1897 Although a few post-secondary institutions accepted African-American applicants, Vassar was not among them. With her parents' full blessing, Anita "passed" as white until her last year when her roommate divulged a private detective's findings to the college, just prior to ...more
MaryannC.Book Fiend
Like other readers, I never knew that Anita Hemmings was the first African American woman to graduate from Vassar college making this a fascinating read. While this was mostly fictional, the story gave you a sense of the harsh reality of Anita's life as she struggled to keep her race a secret in order just to achieve her goal to graduate. What a world we lived in when an African American was not allowed to attend a college just because of the color of her skin which deemed her inferior despite h ...more
Reading in Black & White
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I did not want to attend Vassar just for myself; I wanted to attend Vassar to show that a Negro woman is just as intelligent as a white woman. That we deserve to be at Vassar, that we deserve to be in every school that admits white women. In my own way, I did that. But William, if I could have attended the school as Negro, I would have."

The Gilded Years was a fascinating and eye-opening fictional account of the life of Anita Hemmings. I could tell the author completed extensive research to writ
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Plot: While the premise was extremely promising, I found the novel to be a little dry. I didn’t mind reading it while I was reading it, but once I put it down, I didn’t bend over backwards to pick it back up. The story is interesting, but I didn’t feel that every scene was necessary and some chapters were a bit frivolous, and I’d find myself skimming as I grew to recognize what wouldn’t be important. That, and there was always a heightened sense of expectation, many times of danger, throughout t ...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The Gilded Years" is the story of college senior, Anita. The year is 1915 and it is still quite rare for women to go to college in the first place. Anita is incredibly unique though. She is a black woman passing for a white woman so that she can attend the prestigious Vassar. For the first three years of college, Anita has been incredibly careful not to reveal her true background in order to be allowed to stay at school. Things are threatened by a new roommate and a new love.

I was drawn to this
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Based on the true story of Anita Hemings who was the first african-american to graduate Vassar in 1897.
She passed as white while attending this school for nearly four years. Shortly before graduation her roommate discovered her secret.
When Anita married, she and her husband passed as white throughout their lives.
I found her story very interesting although the book was a slow read for me.
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The research on this book is outstanding. As a reader, I really appreciate when you can tell how hard the author's worked on a book, and how much thought and effort has gone into something, and that's evident here on every single page. The author's attention to detail really adds to the overall story-- references to Anita's childhood, details about clothing, the gas lamps, descriptions of a campus I've never seen-- all this stuff is so subtly placed but so important in general, and she just did ...more
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaway
FABULOUS!!!! I don't read the foreword or the synopsis on the back of books, so I did not realize that this book is based on a true story! Literary license used of course when the author needed to "fill in the blanks". To set the stage..... "The circle in front of Main was crowded with carriages, tired horses, & girls bidding their families goodbye while vying for help with their boxes & suitcase. Before Anita & Caroline had arrived at Vassar as freshmen in 1893." This was a joy to r ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was completely unfamiliar with the story of Anita Hemmings and am so glad that I was able to get my hands on an early copy of this book. I can't imagine how hard it was for Anita to even get to the point in her education where she passed the Vassar entrance exams, because education for African-Americans was abysmal at the turn of the 20th century, but she did, and managed to stay sane when she passed as white for her four years there.

She has definitely been overlooked as an important figure o
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love historical fiction especially when there are truths to the story. I loved Anita's story so much 'The Gilded Years' propelled me to do outside research on the characters. I will admit that this cover doesn't do this book justice. I don't want to give anything away. This is definitely a book that you won't forget and bonus it's a page turner for sure. I'm anticipating Ms. Tanabe's next book.

I'd like to thank Netgalley and Washington Square Press for the opportunity to read and review 'The G
Alicia Danner
Jun 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just read this for book club and it broke my heart. In the best of ways. College students today could really take a lesson from Anita Hemmings and how hard she had to fight to get an education. Also the roommate, that roommate. I don't want to add spoilers, but THAT ROOMMATE!!
Dayle (the literary llama)
Sep 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
RATING: ★★★☆☆ / 3 interesting stars.

REVIEW: I received this book as part of the Once Upon a Book Club Box (if you haven't heard of it, it's an incredibly fun and interesting take on a monthly subscription box, I highly recommend you check it out It's based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, a young woman who passed as white to attend Vassar. Of course the story told here is fictionalized, but the facts are incredibly interesting and I'm so glad that I was introduced
More like a 2.5, but I rounded up because I found the idea so interesting. Anita Hemmings was the first black graduate of Vassar. She passed as white for her time there, as black women weren't allowed to attend at the time. Not much is known about her, and this book attempts to understand what her life might have been like.

It's clear the author did a lot of research, and I thought the general idea was really interesting, but I also found the story a bit slow, and didn't feel like a lot of the ch
Kristine Wilde
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the ARC of this book, and I'm surprised that no one here has yet made a comparison to the book Passing by Nella Larsen. Like Passing, The Gilded Years tells the story of two women, Anita Hemmings and Bessie Baker, one who chose to pass for her higher education, and one who did not, attending Wellesley as a black women. The book centers mostly on Anita, but I loved the relationship between these two women, who reminded me quite a bit of Clare and Irene, though during The Gilded Age. I also ...more
Read In Colour
Though stories about passing can be fascinating topics, I really wish the author had done the subject of this book, Anita Hemmings, more justice. At a time when there's a cry for more diverse books, it seems as if a lot of authors are just writing anything as a way of tossing their hats in the ring. In the hands of a more caring author, this book would really shine, but Tanabe approaches it from a very vanilla point of view and makes light of the anguish and anxiety one would feel if they were t ...more
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book; totally devastated me.
Elizabeth Mahon
When I heard that Karin Tanabe was writing a book based on the life of Anita Hemmings, I was curious. I knew of the story through my research in women's colleges in the 19th century. Thanks to Edelweiss, I was able to read a galley of the novel which comes out in June of this year. In order to attend Vassar in the 19th century, Anita Hemmings has made the painful decision to pass as white. One of the 1st colleges for women (founded in 1865), Vassar has an unwritten policy of not accepting studen ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received an early copy of this book and am very glad that I had the chance to read it now for though it takes place over a hundred years ago, the subject matter - the discrimination of women of color in higher education - feels sadly relevant.

I was familiar with Anita Hemmings' story, but not to so much detail. She passed as white at the then very prestigious Vassar College, giving up her identity to do so. At the time, there was an exam to enter college - particular ones for each school - an
Christy Lindsay
Aug 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: christy-s-books
This book was interesting historically, but I really felt like it lacked depth. At times it seemed like I was reading a Sweet Valley High novel of my youth with a whole bunch of historical facts thrown in. The part about Anita falling in love with Porter Hamilton was a bit far fetched. Who would ask someone to marry them knowing nothing of their history or family? Especially in that day and age. I have also read a lot of books that were actually written in that time period and people just did no ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This story had great potential but, ultimately, I was disappointed. I expected more insight into Anita Hemming's life and what it was like to be a black person passing as white. I felt like I got a detailed accounting of college life at Vassar in the 1890's and the shenanigans of Lottie Taylor, "the roommate" instead. The story is not poorly written, but the author's writing style did nothing to captivate my imagination. I am nitpicking, but I found the use of the terminology "the roommate" to b ...more
Annie ~ The Misstery
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don’t remember how I discovered this book in the first place, but I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. The Gilded Years’ cover is probably one of my favorites ever and the blurb had me intrigued. This is the story of Anita Hemmings, Vassar’s first African-American student… but the truth is that no one else knew. Anita had to pass as a white student in order to attend the university and lived there for a couple of years as a white woman thanks to her light skin tone. Of course, if we’re ...more
Lynne Beavers
Oct 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was really disappointed with this book. I found the subject of a black woman passing as white in order to get a Vassar education intriguing but the delivery was shallow. This could have been an intelligent examination of race relations in our country. Instead it devolved into an insipid dialogue between privileged young women who worried about nothing more substantial than the dress they would wear to the next social outing. I found I could actually skip 60 or 70 pages at a time and have no pr ...more
Fans of Carney's House Party will be fascinated by the story of another real-life Vassar student: Boston's Anita Hemmings longs to attend prestigious Vassar College but 1890s Vassar does not admit Negro women. Anita checks the "white" box on her application and passes as white. She is considered beautiful and talented, and is admired by her classmates but what will they think of her if her secret is revealed? Here is a link to my review:
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
One of the best historical fiction books I've read. Well written and based on a true story, it was a pleasure and an educational one as well.
Anita Hemmings has wanted to attend Vassar since she was a little girl. She dreams of scholarship and travel beyond the confines of her Boston neighborhood. Now, with only one more year at Vassar left, Anita has accomplished her dream. She looks forward to the new school year with excitement and some trepidation. Her future is uncertain. She is always gotten good grades and kept her head down but Anita has a new roommate - Miss Louise "Lottie" Taylor, whirlwind, socialite and self-professed "mod ...more
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Ticket to Read Bo...: The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe 5 6 Apr 27, 2018 11:45AM  
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I'm thrilled that my third book, "The Gilded Years," is out now! I appreciate everyone who has read it and has taken the time to rate and review it.

When I'm not writing, I'm reading, running, traveling, being a francophile, attempting to learn Italian, and developing carpal tunnel on Pinterest.

Thanks for checking out my page!

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