The Word View #2: The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.

I actually finished reading this book at the end of February… but at the time, we had 8 newborn puppies, and a series of illnesses in the house, and I was also competing in the CrossFit Open and trying to get my midterms done… Needless to say, I wasn’t able to focus and reflect back then. But summer is HERE, my classes are done, and I’m eagerly looking forward to a summer of books, swimming, and sunshine.

Before I finish the book I’m currently reading, I figured I should follow through and take some time to talk about Sandra Gulland and her amazing historical fiction about Josephine Bonaparte.

Many Lives and Secret Sorrows” is the first of a trilogy on Josephine B. that I read for the first time in High School. I accidentally read the last book first, and then the second, and then the first… and only THEN did I realize I was way out of order. I’ve read the entire series three times since, and I learn something new every time. Also, Josephine doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the way she altered the fate of France, quietly, humbly, and persistently every day.

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

Describe it in one word: Absorbing

Describe it in one sentence: Fate takes Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, a girl of no means, born on an island in the Caribbean, and through grueling trials, transforms her into Empress Josephine, the legendary woman who stood beside Napoleon.

A quote I loved: “He calls me Josephine. He says I’m an angel, a saint, his good lucky star. I know I’m no angel, but in truth I have begun to like this Josephine he sees. She is intelligent; she amuses; she is pleasing. She is grace and charm and heart. Unlike Rose; scared, haunted and needy. Unlike Rose with her sad life.”

Favorite character: Rose (Josephine). Having known nothing about her before, I was AMAZED by her courage and strength. Through infidelity, physical pain, imprisonment, single motherhood, uncertainty, and starvation, she proved herself a survivor. More than that, though, I was touched by how her concern always radiated to those around her.

Favorite moment: Rose walking down daily to the consulate with a list of names, and begging for their releases from prison. It reminded me of Esther…a good woman fighting for the lives of innocent people.

One thing I wasn’t crazy about: Honestly, Bonaparte. I hate how he just decides he wants to change Rose’s name to Josephine, and how he takes a strong woman and decides that he can conquer her with ease. (In the coming installments of their story, he starts to respect and listen to her a little more, but in this book he’s unbearable).

Overall impression: I really LOVE how the book is formatted as Josephine’s journal and letters to and from her loved ones. It made for a seamless read, and as a reader I felt I was at the center of history as it unfolded. Gulland’s writing style is also amazing. She has a great command of symbolism, and you can tell she did all of the research she POSSIBLY could. She is an expert on all things Bonaparte, which makes her trilogy a breeze, and a PLEASURE to read.

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