Book: The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.

Author: Sandra Gulland

Where I got the book: I heard about the book from my friend and neighbour, Richelle, who has great taste in books. She says it is a fun read and she couldn't put it down. I don't expect it to be a 'serious' book.

The book is part of a trilogy, that is, it is the first book in a series of three. I think that, together, the three books tell the complete story of Josephine Bonaparte's life.

Saturday, October 9, 2010
This book is a work of historical fiction. This means that the story is entirely ‘made up’ (not true), but the characters are based on real characters from history and most of the major events within the book are actually true to history. The book is inspired by and based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte - the empress of France and wife to Napoleon Bonaparte. The book starts in the year 1777 when Josephine is just a young girl in a small village.

I think I will like this book because I have studied history and I am very interested in things that happened in the past. It always seems amazing to me that the people who lived now were just like we are - I mean, they were as smart as we are and they had the same feelings and capacity to learn, etc. Humans haven’t changed much biologically, even over 10 000 years. So for all our long history, the people involved have been pretty much the same, that is, just like me. Yet, it’s fascinating, too, that people only 200 years ago lived in such a different era. Their view of the world, of science, of god, of equality, of everything !, was vastly different than my own. It’s almost as if they lived on another planet. And yet they could lie under a maple tree and stare at clouds crossing the sky, just like I do.

Monday, October 11, 2010
Josephine is a beautiful young woman who’s family is actually fairly poor. She lives on some Carribean island - I’m not sure which one. I’ll have to look back in the book and try to figure that out.

Josephine dreams of going away to Paris, in Europe, to be rich and live a life of luxury and grandeur; she imagines she has a destiny beyond her small village. I guess she is part of a family that left France to live in a French colony during the heyday of colonization. In the story, a local ‘voodoo’ type local witch-woman prophecizes that she will be a great Queen, which sounds crazy considering she is a poor village girl. She has a certain ‘class status’ in her family and is educated, but she has no real money or prospects for going anywhere. Then... her father gets a letter that her aunt has arranged a marriage for one of the daughters of her father. Josephine is chosen to go. Yet she is just in the process of falling in love with a local boy.... they are beautiful together, very tender and kind and passionate.

Of course, she will not be given the choice of what to do ... I don’t think girls in those days got to decide who to marry. In any case, even if she loves him with her whole heart, if she is given the choice to marry her handsome village boy or to go away to marry a rich stranger in France, what will she do? In such a choice, should she follow her heart? Or practical factors? It’s easy to say ‘follow your heart’, but poverty isn’t very fun, so who knows what she will do.

Friday, October 15, 2010
Josephine is on a ship to France. She has her father and one servant with her. It is a long journey of many weeks, and dangerous and France and England are at war (or at least have battles over colonial territory - I should check my history books to figure out what exactly is going on in terms of war/politics). The book doesn’t give details about politics yet, probably because Josephine - a 15 year old girl - doesn’t really know them herself, and the book is from her perspective.

It’s interesting to think of her on the ship; I know I shall probably never cross the Atlantic Ocean on a boat! But until recently, everyone who travelled the globe undertook long journeys, usally weeks on the ocean were required. In fact, my mother came over from Holland on a boat - it took 3 weeks - in 1954. My grandparents and their 4 children packed onto a ship with hundreds of other people who wanted to make a fresh start in Canada. They didn’t see land for 22 days. Crazy. Now you just read a magazine, have a nap or watch a movie and ‘boom!’: new continent, new climate, new language, new country. Maybe it’s better to take long journeys... our minds can actually understand how far we’ve gone.

Tuesday, October 16, 2010
Wow, girls married so young in those days. Well, at least I hope she will easily forget her first love. They said goodbye by the pond; it was sad for her, but already her thoughts were turning to France, to the excitement ahead of her. Well, it’s always easier for the one who is leaving, isn’t it? The person left behind usually has the harder time. They have a hole left in their life and the person who leaves has excitement and new adventures ahead. Oh - I checked, the Caribbean island was Martinico. I wonder if that is the present day Martinique? I should look it up on the internet. I wonder if they still speak French there. Colonialism sure left a crazy history around the world - European languages and architecture everywhere....

I wonder if she will like her new husband! Will he be handsome, as she hopes? What if he is very old? What if he is not as rich as they say? Or if he is not waiting for her after all? Something bad must happen, I suppose, otherwise, how will she be able to marry Napoleon? Or perhaps this young man becomes Napoleon....but that is not the name of the man she is told she is to marry... hmmm, I wonder....

Friday, October 22, 2010
They have married. She met him, he seems nice enough, he is actually rich, and they had a quick ceremony and it is done. I had to stop reading in the middle of the scene of the wedding night - he has just started to kiss her in their bed. She is very shy and has no idea how she should act or what to expect. From what I can see, no one has taught her anything about sex, so she has no information about what it means to be together as man and wife. Poor thing - it must be so scary and how stupid for no one to tell you anything. Hopefully, he is kind and gentle with her. On the day of the marriage, it took 4-5 hours for her to get her hair done (wrapped up around wire and shaped into a huge thing - like a big hat - on top of her head). She also had to get her face powdered white and make up applied and then she got squeezed - very tightly!! - into corsets so that her waist was as tiny as possible. She could barely breathe during her wedding ceremony. Nice (I am being sarcastic).

So...she is married. Either this young man will become Napoleon (and that doesn’t seem to be the case, the description doesn’t fit) or something will have to happen to this marriage eventually. Well, we shall see. The fact that her new husband has met the Queen has been mentioned (apparently the French queen at the time took notice of handsome young men), so it sounds like Josephine may get a chance to end up in the Royal palace or meet some Royalty. So I guess it will all go from there. I really should read up on a bit of history and find out who the king is at the time...Louis the IVX ? I can’t quite recall.