Now read this... 'The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette' and more biographical fiction

Monday, October 4, 2010

My undergraduate degree is in history and, although I am not good at remembering dates, I do love to read about life in different periods of history and especially how the customs of the day were reflected in the lives of the women. "The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette" by Carolly Erickson takes place in Europe in the late 1700s.

A quote from the flyleaf says: "Erickson brilliantly captures the queen's voice, her hopes, her dreads, and her suffering. We follow, mesmerized, as she reveals every detail of her remarkable, eventful life -- from her teenage years when she began keeping a diary to her final days when she awaited her own bloody appointment with the guillotine."

This book grabs you right from the opening sentence "From Conciergerie Prison, October 3, 1793: They say the fearsome thing doesn't always work well. It takes three or four chops to sever the head. Sometimes the poor wretches scream horribly, for a full minute, before their agony is ended with a single massive blow." Awaiting her execution, Marie Antoinette writes the story of her life, describing her privileged childhood as an Austrian archduchess, years as the glamorous mistress of Versailles, and imprisonment during the French Revolution. After you read this book, go to the library's NoveList database, type in "biographical fiction" and you'll find plenty of similar reads.

Another favorite biographical fiction title is "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant. This is the story of Dinah, a tragic character from the Bible whose great love, a prince, is killed by her brother, leaving her alone and pregnant. The novel traces her life from childhood to death, in the process examining sexual and religious practices of the day, and what it meant to be a woman. Diamant is a wonderful writer. I also loved her newest title "Day After Night," a tale inspired by the post-Holocaust experience set in an immigrant holding camp in 1945 Palestine, where four women, refugees from Nazi Europe, find healing in the bonds of friendship that are forged while recounting their losses. (The library owns this last title in both regular and large print.)

Don't forget we love to "talk books" at the Cape Girardeau Public Library. Come by for a chat and/or demonstration of how to search both NoveList and the library's online catalog for great reads. Happy readings!

Betty Martin is the library director at Cape Girardeau Public Library

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