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In 1844, Missouri belle Julia Dent met dazzling horseman Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. Four years passed before their parents permitted them to wed, and the groom s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony.
Since childhood, Julia owned as a slave another Julia, known as Jule. Jule guarded her mistress s closely held twin secrets: She had perilously poor vision but was gifted with prophetic sight. So it was that Jule became Julia s eyes to the world.
And what a world it was, marked by gathering clouds of war. The Grants vowed never to be separated, but as Ulysses rose through the ranks becoming general in chief of the Union Army so did the stakes of their pact. During the war, Julia would travel, often in the company of Jule and the four Grant children, facing unreliable transportation and certain danger to be at her husband s side.
Yet Julia and Jule saw two different wars. While Julia spoke out for women Union and Confederate she continued to hold Jule as a slave behind Union lines. Upon the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Jule claimed her freedom and rose to prominence as a businesswoman in her own right, taking the honorary title Madame. The two women s paths continued to cross throughout the Grants White House years in Washington, DC, and later in New York City, the site of Grant s Tomb.
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is the first novel to chronicle this singular relationship, bound by sight and shadow."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Against the backdrop of the Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant's rise to power, historical fiction writer Chiaverini's latest (after 2014's Mrs. Lincoln's Rival) imagines the fractured relationship between Grant's wife, Julia, and an enslaved woman named Jule, who had been a constant in Julia's life since childhood. Raised in Missouri by a slave-holding family, Julia Dent unexpectedly falls for her brother's northern friend. Though he attended West Point, Ulys is a humble soldier who just wants a quiet life as a mathematics professor. He and Julia endure a long courtship as the military often keeps him from her, a way of life that doesn't stop after they marry and the Civil War begins. Chiaverini does a good job of conveying the conflicting nature of Julia and Jule's relationship; despite their closeness, they will never be on even footing. Jule longs for a shot at happiness with groom Gabriel, a fellow slave. Important promises are broken, and Jule's resentment toward Julia grows. When the opportunity arises, Jule flees her former friend, which Julia sees as a betrayal. Careful not to cross paths with the Grants, Jule tries to make a life for herself with her hairdressing skills and keeps tabs as Ulys ascends the ranks of the Union Army. Since the story is filtered through a modern lens, some thoughts and actions occasionally seem anachronistic, but this doesn't detract from an engaging and informative book. (Mar.)