The Swans of Harlem

The Swans of Harlem book cover, yellow with black text and 5 dancing ballerinas.

The Swans of Harlem by Karen Valby tells the story of five Black ballerinas, and their time with the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH).

Predominately a character study, and a recount of the triumphs and trials of the featured five Black ballerinas, Swans also touches on history, racism, and AIDS. DTH was created in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, and was one of the first all-Black ballet companies.

Capturing a forgotten history, The Swans of Harlem is a powerful narrative, and a reminder of how easily we can all be forgotten.

I enjoyed learning more about ballet, the history of DTH, and the ballerinas themselves. My only complaint about the novel is that it switches the narration and time abruptly, so I often felt lost as to whose story I was reading at a particular moment and when that story was taking place.

Recommended for fans of ballet or with an interest in history, both Women’s history and Black history.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for an advance copy in exchange for sharing my opinions. All opinions in this review are my own. Links in this review are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

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