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The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. Paperback – August 3, 1999
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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.
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Top customer reviews
I acknowledge that since the book more or less started with a prophecy I was desperate to see it play out, so much so that when the book became serious—too much so describing the events during The Reign of Terror and Rose and her friends’ incarceration—I felt tempted to leave it aside. It was a history lesson let me tell you, and not the pretty kind. It was ugly and messy and plain terrifying. The Many Lives…feels slow at times, particularly in the parts I have talked about, but it’s so meticulously researched and narrated in first voice –through fictionalized journal entries and family letters-- that it lends a more human perspective to the historical events and figures Gulland describes. The result is historical fiction at its best.
I really liked that Gulland divided Josephine B.’s life in more or less three stages: the early years until she meets Napoleon, the marriage to Napoleon and what happens after. I really liked Josephine, or rather, Rose. Is it wrong that I also liked the Napoleon we got to know here?
In summary, Sandra Gulland’s The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. is vast in scope and scale and meant to be savored as one of the best that historical fiction can offer.