Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Desiree: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love
Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

The blurb:
To be young, in France, and in love:  fourteen-year-old Desiree can't believe her good fortune.  Her fiance, the dashing and ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, is poised for battlefield success, and no longer, will she be just a French merchant's daughter.  She could not have known the twisting path her role in history would take, nearly breaking her vibrant heart but sweeping her into a life rich in passion and desire.

A love story, but so much more, Desiree explores the landscape of a young heart torn in two, giving readers a compelling true story of an ordinary girl whose unlikely brush with history leads to a throne no one would have expected.

An epic bestseller that has earned both critical acclaim and mass adoration, Desiree is at once a novel of the rise and fall of empires, the blush and fade of love, and the heart and soul of a woman.

I expected Desiree to be another wonderful escape into historical fiction with a complicated plot, historical characters, much romance and drama and found it to be even better than I'd expected.   Selinko does introduce Desiree to Bethoven, the leaders of the French Revolution, the Jacobines, Robispeare, Talleyrand.   Desiree approaches them as ordinary people, regular citizens, albeit more powerful than most.   Reading Desiree's impressions of them, we see these characters from the point of view of an ordinary woman, one who isn't interested in power but is painfully aware of what effects that powerful people have on the lives of everyone around them. 

The relationship between Desiree and Napoleon is based on far more than their early romance.  Through Napoleon's special relationship with Desiree, we imagine how he might have been with a loyal friend that knew him when he had no money, few contacts, but great confidence and ambition.  In the early years, Desiree and her prosperous middleclass family helped the Bonapartes.  When Desiree's sister Julie married Napoleon's brother, her dowry and their business provided the Bonapartes with resources that helped Bonaparte rise in politics and the army.   I particularly enjoyed the way that Selinko captured the unique and powerful link that we share with old friends and the way that she showed this in the relationship between Desiree and Napoleon.

Though Napoleon and Desiree were secretly engaged, this was an early love.  Napoleon was subsequent married to Josephine and Desiree married Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, another general in the French army.  Bernadotte was loyal to the Republic and faced considerable trials because of his refusal to bow to Napoleon's wishes.  His independence, integrity and superb tactical skills result in unexpected recognition and responsibility for Bernadotte.  But his professional successes take a toll Desiree.  Desiree, Jean Baptiste and their son make sacrifices for the countries that they love and their very humanity makes this story even more remarkable and moving.

I thoroughly enjoyed Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love and would recommend it to anyone fond of historical fiction or the Napoleonic period or looking for an engaging and moving read.

ISBN-10: 1402244029 - Paperback $16.99
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; Reprint edition (October 1, 2010), 608 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Annemarie Selinko was born in Vienna in 1914. She was a successful journalist and novelist.  In 1938 she moved to Copenhagen and subsequently lived in Stockholm, Paris, and London before returning to Copenhagen where she passed away in 1986.

Thank you so much to Sourcebooks for this review opportunity.

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