The BUZZ: Historical fiction by the bestselling author of Open House and Tapestry of Fortunes.
The GIST: This memoir-like story presents the life and times of the brilliant writer, George Sand. Born Aurore Dupin in 1801, Sand fled her loveless, arranged marriage to live among the artists in Paris, leaving behind her two young children. Dressing as a man in order to access the cheaper theatre seats, she discovered intoxicating freedom and accessibility to the intellectual side of the city, off limits to women. Writing under a male pen name, she found great success and fulfilled her dreams. Sand shared tables, and occasional beds, with the likes of Flaubert, Balzac, Hugo, Chopin, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her colorful, scandalous behavior makes for juicy reading. Consequences of her difficult choices are explored at every stage of her life, along with the conflicts that inevitably arise in creating a life removed from the expectations of society.
The WRITING: Lush and vivid. The narrator begins her story with the complicated love affair between her parents. Berg must have read all of Sand’s books to nail such a crisp and detailed voice for the narration. It’s completely consistent. Mid-century Paris is the best character, glowing with the energy of the horde of creative geniuses roaming its streets and filling its cafes at the time. Although she died over a hundred years ago, Sand’s challenges in creating a full life for herself are timeless ones for women. Society’s definitions of what a woman’s life should look like have been unbalanced and dictatorial. Berg grabs these thorny issues with a steady hand, and doesn’t hesitate to prick the reader with the pain of how some things haven’t changed.
BUY OR BORROW: Buy. The dialogue and imagery make it worth a place on your shelf. Berg’s nonjudgemental presentation of the writer’s scandalous life made me curious about Sand’s work. I’m enjoying A Winter in Mallorca, her autobiographical travel novel (with cool photos and illustrations) of her time in Spain with Chopin, where he wrote some of his most beloved compositions.
“At random moments, I find myself in sudden need of an intense privacy. Then I excuse myself from my own table, from the trilling conversation in the bookshop, from the darkened theater or the street market, with its bins of fish and chard. I stand somewhere alone to calm myself, to draw breaths past the knot in my chest. I lose focus of my surroundings in order to accommodate a more compelling vision in which I undress my life, searching for the vital place, the beating heart of what I most truly was and am.”