Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule (Jennifer Chiaverini)

mrs. grant

Why did you choose this book?

Our summer program series for adults at the library has focused on the first ladies, and for our last program, we selected this book for a community book club and discussion.  I was one of the co-leaders, so I read the book.  Good story, I know.

What’s it about?

Julia Dent grew up on a slave-owning Missouri plantation, where she met and fell in love with Ohio/Kentucky native Ulysses Grant.  They married, and throughout their married life, Julia’s childhood slave and sorta-kinda-friend, Jule, appears and disappears from the narrative, bouncing between life with Julia and the plantation.  While the title indicates that the book will be about the relationship between Julia and Jule the book is really about Ulysses and Julia, with a bit of Jule thrown in for interest.

Categories?

Historical fiction – American Civil War

Other recommended reads?

If your interest is Civil War historical fiction, check out the series by Michael and Jeff Shaara.  They are much more battle-centric but are much more skillfully written and truly place you inside the characters’ minds.  If you’re interested in historical women, try Allison Pataki’s The Traitor’s Wife (wife of Benedict Arnold in the American Revolution) or The Accidental Empress (Empress Elisabeth of Austria).

Final thoughts?

I was extremely disappointed in this book.  A love of this time period is what drove me to become a history major, so I expected to love the book.  Nope.  I felt like the book had large narrative sections that read like nonfiction, but without the endnotes you expect in nonfiction, I struggled to decipher which portions were factual and which were fiction.  I wanted Chiaverini to focus on Grant’s presidential years rather than his time as general in chief, which did not happen.  The presidential period was practically glossed over, a shame, since that is an era more rarely studied in Grant’s life.  As Ulysses struggled with illness at the end of his life, I felt that the details the author shared were a bit too gory for this type of fiction.  I found myself looking forward to the sections about Madame Jule, which grew ever shorter and more sparse as the book progressed.  I didn’t hate it, but I felt that it didn’t live up to its potential (or its title), and I probably will not read another book by this author.

Up next?

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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