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Temptation Rag: A Novel

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

What WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was to the circus, TEMPTATION RAG is to ragtime . . . 

5-star pick from Readers' Favorite Book Reviews

"A striking portrait of racial and gender inequality in the ragtime era."—Fredric Tulsky, Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist

"A page-turning story of passion, ambition, and desire."—Megan Chance, bestselling author of Bone River and Inamorata

What is the price of freedom? How do we leave a legacy? Can we ever forgive the unforgivable? A deeply human story of love, lies, and the power of music from the author of The Beauty Doctor, Finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award, 2017 AZ Literary Awards, and a Medallion Honoree of the Book Readers Appreciation Group.

Seventeen-year-old May Convery, unhappy with her privileged life in turn-of-the-century New York City, dreams of becoming a poet. When she meets the poor but talented Mike Bernard, a young aspiring concert pianist, she immediately falls in love. But it's not long before Mike abandons May and his love for serious music to pursue a career in ragtime, soon winning the coveted title Ragtime King of the World. 

Within the confines of an unhappy marriage arranged by her parents, May struggles to salvage her self-respect as a woman and an artist. After a chance encounter, she befriends Abbie Mitchell, a young African American soprano of extraordinary talent who is married to the tempestuous violinist and composer of ragtime operettas Will Marion Cook. Through May's unusual friendship with Abbie, she meets J. Rosamond Johnson, one of the most successful African American musical theater composers of the era. A relationship begins that will force May to confront the bitter realities of racism in America and, eventually, the shameful secret she has kept hidden for years.

Mike's life without May appears to be a success. He is the first solo ragtime pianist to record for Columbia Records and a top draw at every big theater in New York City. But that isn't enough. His rivalry with the charismatic Ben Harney, the self-proclaimed Originator of Ragtime, consumes him. It is only when Mike meets the naive young Ziegfeld girl Dolly Zuckerman that he starts to remember what it feels like to care about someone other than himself. But love is more fickle than he imagined, and so is the public. When his fans begin to tire of ragtime, quick to embrace the modern new music of jazz, Mike must grapple with the painful realization that he is yesterday's news. Bitter and alone, he finally faces the ultimate question of what, if anything, really matters. It is then, under the most uncomfortable of circumstances, that he and May happen to meet again, their unexpected contact rekindling confused emotions that have lain dormant for nearly thirty years. Can they make peace with the past that still haunts them? Or is it too late? 

The world of ragtime is the backdrop for a remarkable story about the price of freedom, the longing for immortality, and the human need to find forgiveness, From vaudeville's greatest stars to the geniuses of early African American musical theater, an unforgettable cast of real-life characters populates this richly fictionalized historical saga. 



Bernard’s resonant novel is about the birth and demise of ragtime and the white players who fought for fame in the genre. In 1895, a white piano player/composer named Ben Harney claims to be “the originator of ragtime.” He is exceptionally talented, and black musicians unsuccessfully try to assert that the style belongs to them. After a quick lesson from Ben, a young, white New York piano teacher named Mike Bernard adopts the ragtime technique despite his classical training, and when his career begins to take off, he ends a brief love affair with wealthy May Convrey. Mike’s fame and fortune increases after he wins a competition, earning him the title of Ragtime King of the World. Meanwhile, May has reluctantly married a man her father chose for her, and she eventually pursues her own interests as a poet. The paths of May, Mike, and Ben occasionally cross as the decades pass—historical conflicts such as women’s suffrage stirring around them—and, true to life, nothing turns out quite as anyone had expected. The descriptions of performances and environments are luxuriously crafted, resulting in a lively tale in which romance and creative passions abound. (BookLife)
Readers' Favorite

“The most striking thing about Temptation Rag: A Novel was the talented way in which author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard captures the style of the ragtime era. Music, art and culture spring from every page of this delightfully artistic work.”