The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. (Sandra Gulland)
B. stands for Bonaparte, as in Napoleon Bonaparte. Does that clear up the title? To tell the truth, Napoleon wasn’t even mentioned until the final pages because the book focuses mostly on his wife’s life before she met him — before his reign over France. Writing in diary entries, Gulland tells Josephine’s (Rose’s) story beautifully, and I can only imagine that the final 2 books of the trilogy are worth a read. I love historical fiction that takes the reader past surface-y, well-known events and into the background stories of the “normal” people that lived in that time. The history lesson the book provides is clear, and although most dialogue and emotions are invented for readability, none of it is overdramatized or out of context. Yes, we know about Waterloo. Yes, we learned about Robespierre. Now, we get to learn about a child who came to France from its colony Martinique and the rest of her life story, which eventually included marrying the emperor of France.
My only issue with this book is its title. Even as an acronym it’s too long: TMLASSOJB.
The Paris Wife (Paula McClain)
McClain wrote a captivating and thorough account of what it would have been like to be Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. Descriptions of Paris, the lifestyle of the early 1900s (Jazz Age), and its important literary figures, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, bring a vivid picture to its readers. As much as I dislike** Ernest Hemingway, this book enraptured me emotionally like none other. You feel empathic towards Hadley, and somehow, even through his all his disloyalty and irresponsibility, Hemingway.
**After reading A Farewell to Arms, I threw my copy in the yard and ran over it with the lawn mower.
Bringing Up Bébé (Pamela Druckerman)
The only non-fiction book on this list, Bringing Up Bébé tells the story of an American woman raising her kids in modern-day Paris. Even as a childless woman, I found her advice both humorous and helpful. While Druckerman’s book doesn’t necessarily explore the intricate architectural details of the Notre Dame or the Arc de Triumphe, I think it gives an interesting view of the current French culture in terms of family and relationships.
There are many controversial topics on child rearing including formula vs. breastfeeding, potty-training, appropriate food, and sleeping. I didn’t agree with some of her points, and you may not either, so just take them with a grain of salt. Another criticism of this book comes from women who claim her child-rearing advice is “common sense,” or that she is only repeating traditions passed down through generations. So what? Even if these are common ways to raise children, did you ever write a book about them?
To Dance with Kings (Rosalind Laker)
Laker’s novel, To Dance with Kings, travels through the lives of women in a family for five generations while explaining the destruction of the French monarchy and the influence of the palace at Versailles. While the plot is centered around one family, the background provides a detailed account of important historical figures including three King Louis’ (XIV-XVI), Marie Antoinette, and every other French royalty. Needless to say, you feel so immersed in the expansive story of this rags-to-riches family of florally-named fanmakers, that by the end of reading 600 pages, you want more. What about the next generation, Rosalind?! Even though the writing in this book is a little blander than the other recommendations, because, well, it’s 600 pages long, the concept of the story engaged me completely.
Do you have France-inspired book recommendations?
The Wayfaring Woman