This is a novella that was originally published in the anthology Daughters of a Nation.
I read this for square 7 (International Human Rights Day) as it takes place in Harlem (in 1917) as the state of New York prepares to vote in the November elections, especially the amendment to the state constitution giving women the right to vote. Bertha is a business woman running her own restaurant/night club/whorehouse and is working hard to help the suffragettes get the vote. She also has to fight off some men who were former clients when she was selling sex now that she is widowed. Her dead hubby wasn't a great guy and there is no lingering grief going on....seems Bertha saw it as much of a business decision as anything else in her life. Bertha wants the right to vote so that she can help her fellow women business owners and her girls, pretty much every woman who are often overlooked or mistreated. She also has to contend with the vice squads that are bringing down the hammer on clubs like hers due to selling sex and race mixing. I liked Bertha as a boss lady and teacher (she taught civic classes to her girls and other people when the club was closed so that those that can (or will soon be allowed to) vote can do so with a foundation of knowledge.
Amir left the British navy as a cook hoping for a more stable and socially upward mobile life in America. Unfortunately he has only met with brick walls and is just trying to survive. He is unsure if he wants to return to Bengal and live as a farmer under British rule or keep surviving in America. He has no papers, so staying out of law enforcement's grasp is a daily reminder he is Other. Bertha needs another cook to help/sub for her club's cook who is mightily pregnant. Amir has political/community organizing, along the lines of labor unions, but Bertha's lessons open him up to refining his political beliefs. I really liked Amir and his friends/roommates, especially Syed. I also like how Amir is identified as a Muslim, first in the dialog between him and Bertha and then later on while he was praying for her safe return from jail.
The characters were great, the setting and issues of the day were well written, but the romance sucked. I did believe they had sexual chemistry, but not an emotional connection. Bertha acted like a cold bitch to Amir several times and every time he apologized but she never admitted she was out of line. Maybe if the story was longer, there would be more time for Bertha to open up to Amir the way he did with her.