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The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B: A Novel by [Gulland, Sandra]
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4.4 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since completing high school history, few of us have managed to keep straight the details of the French Revolution. Beyond suggestions of eating cake and the effectiveness of the guillotine, this sordid time period has remained--for many--somewhat obscure. Now, through the novel The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., not only do we learn of the many differences between Robespierre and Rousseau, but we gain insight into the marriage of one of history's greatest political couples: Napoleon and Josephine.

Standing beside the charismatic Napoleon, Josephine's own importance and fascinating history have often been overshadowed. In a fictionalized account of Josephine's diaries and her correspondence, author Sandra Gulland has shed light on Josephine's pre-Napoleon life. This, the first of three books about Josephine, covers her childhood in Martinique, her first marriage, the birth of her children, her life during the revolution, and her marriage to Napoleon.

A poor Creole outsider as well as a rising socialite, Josephine experienced both the horrors of imprisonment and the privilege of connections. Utilizing these different perspectives, Gulland takes special care to bring forth the reality of life in late 18th-century France. Though she can only theorize on Josephine's emotions and desires, Gulland's talented writing and the restrained use of footnotes keep the reader properly informed on pertinent details, whether they be obscure political events or voodoo beliefs. While professional historians may bristle at the artistic license Gulland employs, most readers will find her novel a satisfying and engaging introduction to this dramatic period. --Nancy R.E. O'Brien

From Library Journal

When Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher was a girl in Martinique, a voodoo priestess predicted that she would be unhappily married, would then be widowed, and would become queen. With the profits from her father's sugar plantation spent largely on his gambling and drinking, the final prediction seems unlikely. An arranged marriage takes Rose to France, where she finds herself woefully uneducated and unprepared for high society. But in 1779 no one is prepared for the bloody upheaval that will convulse France for years. Rose endures her husband's infidelity and abandonment before his execution leaves her a widow. Combining charm, intelligence, empathy, and luck, she copes with poverty and prison, surviving the revolution with her children. Gulland skillfully re-creates the era's turbulence without confusing readers. A chronology and genealogy provide assistance, and Rose is a character worth caring about and remembering. Her marriage to Napoleon ends this first volume in a projected trilogy, leaving readers eager to know the rest of her story. [First published in Canada as a hardcover, this series is being issued in trade paperback in the United States.AEd.]AKathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., M.
-AKathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3782 KB
  • Print Length: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (March 17, 2002)
  • Publication Date: March 17, 2002
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0029TQ5RC
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,732 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm not a big fan of the whole 'history via a character's diary' thing. But I grabbed this book on a whim and was quickly absorbed. Sandra Gulland makes her Josephine so real and lovable--she's not the out-of-reach French Empress who happened to cheat on Napoleon. Josephine is actually a very real, warm person with insecurities and loneliness and the same troubles that any of us would have. Her marriage is rough, she has to move far away from home, she worries about having the money for her children's education. You laugh, cry, and worry right along with Rose/Josephine.
The historical details in this are wonderful as well. It's obvious that Sandra Gulland put a lot of research into her book, and it certainly pays off. I immediately ordered the second and third book, and was not disappointed in any of them.
I recommend ordering the entire trilogy immediately. Trust me when I say you'll rip through all three in a record pace. They're that good.
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Format: Paperback
A friend of mine read this book while on vacation in Hawaii. He loved it so much he immediately went to the bookstore to buy the second and third books in this trilogy. I had never heard of the book or the author, nor was I interested in the life of Josephine Bonaparte, but his enthusiastic praise was enough of an endorsement for me.
He was right. This is a book you will lose yourself in. Sandra Gulland has done an enormous amount of research on her subject, Josephine Bonaparte, a.k.a. Rose. It is very entertaining, as well as educational. Gulland's Josephine is a classy, gracious diplomat who helped shape history. When faced with a dilemma after reading this book, you will find yourself asking "What would Josephine do?" The book is written in diary format, and spans the time from Josephine/Rose's adolescence in Martinique, through the French Revolution, and up until the beginning of her relationship with Napoleon. Each chapter leaves you eager for the next one, and growing more and more fond of Josephine along the way.
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Format: Paperback
I applaud Gulland, the author, for choosing a lesser-studied historical figure and taking the time to write such an interesting (fact-based) fiction about her.
Told in the form of diary readings by and correspondence to Josephine (aka "Rose"), this first of three volumes discusses her early life, adolescence, first marriage, children, imprisonment, and reluctant relationship with Napoleon. During these years, Josephine was surrounded by revolution, intrigue, love, fear, and poverty.
Gulland bases the story on her years of reasearch. Her respect for Josephine and the historical period shows in her richly-crafted descriptions. I was entertained by many of the interesting tid-bits of information about he medical practices and beauty rituals of the day. (I am incredibly thankful that I was born in the 20th century!)
This is one of those books I had difficulty putting down. Each diary reading seemed to bring about a revalation which urged me to read on further. I felt like a voyeur -- spying into the life of Josephine by reading her most private thoughts.
My only criticism has to do with the pace of the book. At points the story zoomed forward, at other points it sputtered slowly ahead. Rather than pointing a finger at the author, I would likely attribute this varying pace to the subject matter. (Afterall, Josephine's life -- while interesting -- was not always at full throttle.) I expect that the pace will stay more consistent in volume 2, as it covers the most historically active part of Josephine's life.
Speaking of the second volume, I have already purchased it. I can't wait to see what else is in store. Happy reading!
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Format: Paperback
When a friend presented Sandra Gulland's Josephine trilogy to me as a gift, I was somewhat dubious. But that night, I opened the front cover, read the first page, and was immediately drawn in to the world of Rose, the girl from Martinique who grew up to survive the Terror of the French Revolution and become Josephine, the wife of Napolean Bonapart.

I understand Sandra Gulland is a complete Francophile and researched tirelessly to bring together the details of the events described in the book. Choosing the first person would have been an excellent narrative technique regardless, but to transform it into a personal diary is incredibly courageous. It is as if Gulland has channeled Josephine herself, convincing us(as well as Arthur Golden did in Memoirs of a Geisha) that the author is completely absent, and the story is quite possibly a genuine artefact.

Gulland has weaved a spell on every page of the book, convincing us we are privvy to the private musings of one of the most famous women of all history. What's more, her conversational descriptive approach forms Josephine, her family, her friends and the events of the French Revolution in such a way that makes them entirely three dimensional. Each character is well defined, as if they dictated their conversations, their quips and their comments directly to Gulland for reproduction on the page.

The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. is pacey, never boring, always compelling, an absolute page turner. When I finished it, I paused a few days to take in the magnitude of the events of the final pages - Josephine's marriage to Bonapart. I dared not even scan the cover of another book lest the spell I believed I had fallen under was broken. Then I plunged into book two...
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