4 out of 4 stars
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It's the time of enlightenment, revolutions, and revolutionaries. Nations are becoming republics in Europe. Like many aristocrats and Jacobins of her time, Eleonora fervently wanted freedom from the tyrannical rule of the royals for her beloved Naples. She wanted a republic where everyone had equal rights and access to education. Inspired by the new French Republic, she fought for republican rule in Naples. The increasing agitation forced the Bourbon royals into exile. Five months after Naples became a republic, the French withdrew their troops from Naples. Eleonora was arrested for her role in the rebellion. While in detention, she reminisces about her life and pens down a memoir in which she details her relationship with Joseph Correia da Serra, a passion that never quite materialized. Years after her demise, while visiting former President Thomas Jefferson in his Monticello home, Jefferson gave Joseph a manuscript written in his native Portuguese language. Upon perusal, he realized it was Eleonora's memoir. The discovery opened a path for Joseph to express emotions he had kept close to his heart for years.
Eleonora and Joseph by Julieta Almeida Rodrigues is a historical fiction novel loosely based on actual people and events. Julie tells the story from the perspective of both protagonists. Her use of the first-person narration gave the book the feel of a friend recounting an anecdotal story.
I love many things about the book, but most of all, I love that I could sense the characters' personalities from their narrative voice. Like the poet she is, Eleonora's writing flows like the sea. Free, vivid, and expansive. Dogged in her convictions and pursuits, she held nothing back. In contrast, Joseph's narration, though articulate and coherent, is more formal and stilted. The self-preservation and self-consciousness that ruled his every decision permeate his words.
Eleonora's story made me appreciate how far the world has come and how little things have changed. While the poor now have access to education and the populace enjoys greater freedom of speech, I can't say the same for women's rights. Like Don Pasquale, many men still believe their wives are their property to control and handle as they deem fit. Domestic violence is still rife. Society still looks upon single women of marriageable age with disdain. A woman's assertiveness is still seen as rudeness. So much has changed, but nothing has changed.
The book is my best read of the year so far. It's rich in history, character, and flair. The story is told with a genuineness that prods the heart. It evokes profound questions that linger behind long after you turn the last page. Considering these factors and the impeccable editing, I rate it four out of four stars.
Julieta's work holds so much history, passion and utter brilliance within its pages that I would recommend it to anyone interested in history.
Eleonora and Joseph
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