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Many Lives & Secret Sorrows Josephine B [Paperback]

Sandra Gulland
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 17 2000

In this first of three books inspired by the life of Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon, Sandra Gulland recreates the astonishing world of a young girl who transforms herself into one of the most powerful women in history. Told in an imaginative and historically accurate diary form, this is an utterly absorbing novel of magical proportions.


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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise! Oct. 29 2001
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!! What a woman! July 26 2001
Format:Paperback
I can't remember loving a novel of historical fiction more than this one. From the very first page Ms. Gulland captivates the reader with vivid descriptions of Rose's (Josephine) childhood in Martinico, her longing to one day travel to Paris, and we learn of her destiny to one day become Queen. Through her diary, we follow her life's journey of attaining that destiny. And as such, we accompany her through her many sorrows (including poverty, a husband she loves who does not love her, his many infidelities and her imprisonment), all of which she endures with grace, and with concern for her children as her utmost priority. While the book focuses on the politcal unrest and horrors of France during the 18th century, the story flows through one amazing woman's thoughts, courage, hopes and fears. At the end of the book, when she finally meets Napolean, I was delighted with the terrible impression he presented to society as well as to Rose, (his small stature, huge ego and very unfashionable appearance)and how he so haughtily decides her name will now be Josephine. Given this, I still could not help but like him. I am anxiously beginning book 2 in the series and recommend this book very highly to others with an interest in historical fiction.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous historical fiction...Riveting! March 15 2001
By susan
Format:Paperback
Riveting from the first page.....Gulland's technique of the personal diary with correspondence interspersed immediately creates an intimate connection between the reader and Rose. Deftly done. Highly literate, which I loved.....the use of the English language and the insertion of French terms and phrases was masterful. Gulland creates a feel for the environment, the culture and the emotional life of Martinique and the Caribbean Islands, as well as Paris and surrounding areas....this book positively transports the reader. Historical details about the French Revolution make Les Miz's portrayal of the Revolution seem like a fairy tale...the upheaval and fear during the Reign of Terror are portrayed with frightening accuracy. The context created by Gulland enables even non-historian readers to understand the parallels between the Fr. Revolution--and the chaos it spawned--and the Bolshevik Revolution that would ensue nearly a century later. One can't help also feel some of the fright that must have gripped the post-Revolutionary Americans in their newly-founded Republic as they watched events play out in France. Makes you wonder--Do the ends justify the means? Are we always a here hair's breadth away from anarchy? This is a compelling story told in a compelling 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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting
This is the first in a trilogy. Bonaparte does not come in until the end, leaving the reader wanting to open book 2. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Caylee G
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical novel
Wonderful story, we just read it in our book club. First of a Trilogy. The author researched France before, during and after the French Revolution. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2010 by Angie
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!!!
I simply just LOVED IT! I love history and this book provides you entertainment and knowledge about how they lived back then. I definitely recommend it.
Published on Dec 14 2010 by Y. Dumoulin
4.0 out of 5 stars got me hooked
I bought this from the bargin bin at a large book sellers. I was one lucky woman, I would have paid much more for it. I read this and the rest of the series is quick succession. Read more
Published on May 16 2007 by C. McIntyre
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!
I had never heard of this book before I saw it at a book fair. I am so glad I picked it up! I have talked about it so much, that all of my friends are reading it. Read more
Published on April 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Josephine's life via her diary--fabulous!
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. Read more
Published on March 5 2002 by Jill Myles
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Eye-opening Tale of a Future Queen
I only recently heard about this popular series of books on Josephine Bonaparte. I started reading this first one and could not put it down. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting Reading
The book, written in diary format, documented the early life and formative years of Rose Tasher (aka Josephine Bonaparte). Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2002 by M.A.E.
5.0 out of 5 stars An exelent book
This book is exelent. After I picked it up I couldn't stop reading. It taught me a lot of things, and I know it will teach everybody something. Read more
Published on Dec 30 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars Overdone
Although this book has some fine moments where I think the author really speaks to the readers and lets them know what Josephine's interior life might of been like, these moments... Read more
Published on Dec 17 2001
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