Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. - Sandra Gulland

This review comes to us from Amy S, a native Floridian, former teacher, now stay-at-home mom to three. She loves reading, the ocean, Disney, Publix, traveling, adventure, all things French, food, date nights with her husband, and more READING. If you have time to stop at her blog between books, you can find her HERE.

Summary: In this first of three books inspired by the life of Josephine Bonaparte, Sandra Gulland has created a novel of immense and magical proportions. We meet Josephine in the exotic and lush Martinico, where an old island woman predicts that one day she will be queen. The journey from the remote village of her birth to the height of European elegance is long, but Josephine's fortune proves to be true. By way of fictionalized diary entries, we traverse her early years as she marries her one true love, bears his children, and is left betrayed, widowed, and penniless. It is Josephine's extraordinary charm, cunning, and will to survive that catapults her to the heart of society, where she meets Napoleon, who's destiny will prove to be irrevocably intertwined with hers. (summary from book jacket - image from

My review: Before reading this book, I could probably sum up what I knew about Josephine Bonaparte in a pretty short sentence: She was married to Napoleon, and although he loved her fiercely, he divorced her for someone younger. The end. But one day, while browsing through a bookstore in Highlands, N.C. on my vacation, this book was highly recommended to me by the owner, and she had never proven wrong before. Her record still stands. This is a book that sucks you in quickly and keeps you interested until the end.

We meet Josephine as "Rose" in her extremely humble home on Martinique. She is sent to France at fifteen in order to save the family from financial ruin through an arranged marriage. With stars in her eyes she arrives in Paris, eager to marry her handsome beau and live happily ever after. The marraige is not what she hoped for. Her husband is almost never in Paris, as he chooses to live with his mistress. She is poorly educated and thrust into high society. Two children later, she believes she will live out her life alone while fighting for her children's financial future. Their lives are violently interrupted by the French Revolution, and her path is changed forever.

This is when the book becomes truly gripping. The book masterfully portrays the horrors of the Reign of Terror, and the mind-numbing fear and panic Rose feels as it finally reaches her door. She is arrested in the middle of the night and taken to the most horrific prison, leaving her children alone. The prison scenes are well-detailed and harrowing. We want to weep with her as family and friends we have grown to love go to the guillotine and she desperately tries to make arrangements for her children. She is literally saved from the same fate at the last possible moment.

In the last part of the book, Rose is left widowed and destitute. Through her quick-thinking and good luck, she is able to survive and care for her family. We see her involvement in the shaky new government, and her fateful meeting with Napoleon--a man who, in the beginning, she detests.

The author researched Josephine Bonaparte's life through her diaries and letters for a decade before writing this novel. It is told in diary form, and although I have been frustrated by that format in the past, it really worked for me here. We see Josephine grow through the book; the diary entries becoming better as she becomes more educated. I was happy to find it is the first in a trilogy; all of them are good. Compelling historical fiction; characters are well-drawn and this period of time engaging and detailed. The medical, social, and beauty/hygiene practices of the day were really fun to read about.

My rating: 5 Stars - I can't remember anything excessive in this book.

Sum it up: A wonderful portrait of Josephine Bonaparte. She's smart, witty, and a survivor. I found myself thinking about this book long after I finished.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Love your review Amy!!

Anne Bennion said...

Just finished this book and loved it, couldn't put it down. Does anyone know if the second and third book in the series are just as delightful?


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