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book review: "Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule"...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
...by Jennifer Chiaverini. Pretty fascinating subject matter, based on historical research, but with lots of fiction and elaboration to flesh out some interesting characters. Julia Dent grew up as a privileged daughter of slave owners, and was courted by and eventually married to Ulysses Grant. Jule was a servant in her father's house, and followed Julia's life from afar as Mrs. Grant became the well known wife of a famous Union General.

Julia could see nothing wrong with the lifestyle into which she was born, though Grant was vehemently opposed to slavery. After Lincoln proclaimed slaves freed, Jule left her mistress and started a life in the north, but always fearful of being found out and forced to return to her former owners, prosecuted as a runaway. The story follows the various campaigns of the war, and finds Julia having children, constantly on the move, as she relocates many times to be close to her husband. Lots of historical facts about the many battles of the war as Grant is given more and more responsibility for the troops, strategy, and decisions. Promoted to General of the Union Armies, and signs a peace agreement at Appamatox. Grant is portrayed as a generous, benevolent man, not wanting a war, but willing to fight fiercely to bring the conflict to a quick resolution. Lincoln is killed, Grant is drafted to run for president and serves two terms, then decides enough is enough.

Not knowing much about these actual historical characters, I cannot say how accurately they are portrayed in this novel, but it appears to be well researched. I believe the author read numerous memoirs and journals of that era, and did much research into historical documents. According to the novel, Grant died as a result of his love of cigars, from cancer of the mouth. And the book ends with Julia becoming fast friends with Mrs. Varina Davis, the widow of the president of the Confederacy.

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