In her third novel about Los Angeles, the author of Southland and The Age of Dreaming introduces readers to Rick Nagano, the down-on-his-luck son of Japanese and Polish immigrants studying for his Ph.D. in history at USC. When Nagano meets Fiona Morgan—the elegant scion of an old steel family—he agrees to help her with a project of questionable merit in the hopes he'll win her favor.
In Nina Revoyr’s...powerful and provocative A Student of History, L.A.’s present and formative past collide consistently and often without warning. These moments happen more naturally then they could in novels set in more venerable East Coast cities because living connections to L.A.’s beginnings as a major American city still walk among us ... With her two Walter Mosley-like gifts—impeccable narrative pacing and masterful command of Los Angeles’ intricate, evolving dynamics of race and class—Nina Revoyr’s L.A. novels convincingly capture the lifespan of Los Angeles as a major city, none more gracefully than A Student of History ... At its best, A Student of History reflects insightfully on not just class and history but their intersection in a young city’s living (if fading) reminders of its origins.
[Revoyr's] style is both elegant and pleasurable to read; she juggles geographical detail, context, and plotting with a deceptive ease. Revoyr’s L.A. is a city teeming with contradictions, one where the world of everyday concerns and that of the elite class co-exist but rarely intersect until, that is, a random stroke of luck or fate sees a person travel from one world to the next ... At the heart of A Student of History, and what prevents the novel from merely serving as a takedown of the scandalous ultra-rich, is Revoyr’s complex characterization of Marion W ... In many ways, A Student of History adopts the familiar structure of the bildungsroman ... Indeed, part of the pleasure of reading the novel is inhabiting that familiar structure ... Yet by placing the novel in so specific a milieu––Los Angeles in 2019, an era where Americans are feeling the class divide more than ever––Revoyr forges a work that stands on its own. If the book’s ambitions prove modest, it feels entirely appropriate, considering Richard’s ultimate discovery that sometimes a modest life lived well––far from society luncheons and award ceremonies––is good enough.
Revoyr’s latest masterfully and intimately suspenseful tale of certain disaster...is fueled by volatile social conflicts in Los Angeles ... Shrewdly delineated scenes, loaded conversations, and a delirious surge of desire caustically expose the city’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.