Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini

Have you read Ron Chernow’s tome on Ulysses S. Grant? I have, and when I saw there was a historical fiction book about his wife and her slave, I had to check it out. That’s right: the leader of the Union army married a woman whose family owned slaves. That should make for interesting reading, right?

From Goodreads, where readers have given Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule a 3.73 rating out of 5: “The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival imagines the inner life of Julia Grant, beloved as a Civil War general’s wife and the First Lady, yet who grappled with a profound and complex relationship with the slave who was her namesake—until she forged a proud identity of her own.”

Chiaverini admits “Although the lives of Ulysses and Julia Grant are well documented, almost nothing exists about Jule beyond a few brief mentions in Julia Grant’s memoirs . Thus her life as depicted in this story is almost entirely imagined .” That should be great for the reader, because it gives the author more freedom in their writing.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule should be the story of Julia Dent Grant and her slave, Jule, who grew up together and were inseparable during those years.  However, this book is more about the Grants than Jule, more specifically Julia Grant. By most accounts, she was a good woman, and is frequently mentioned as one of the best first ladies the United States has ever had. She had flaws, and they are shown throughout the book, which to me, makes her more real.

There’s a lot of following Ulysses Grant around as he goes to war and is stationed in different cities. What amazed me in both Chernow’s book, Grant, and this book is how close the Grant children were to the fighting. Going to visit Grant while he’s in the middle of a battle? I can’t imagine doing that these days.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule really takes off for me after Jule leaves Julia Grant and escapes slavery and makes her way to Washington D.C. to make a life of her own. I wanted more Jule at that point, but instead got more of the Grants since it was the height of the Civil War. Their paths to Washington are vastly different, and the fact that they knew the same people made this book all the more interesting.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is a good read, if you can get past the historical inaccuracies, which are usually found in historical fiction novels. Ulysses S. Grant was no saint, as I know from reading Grant, but Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule depicts him that way.

I’m enough of a fan of the writing of this book that I’ll be picking up the Lincoln books, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Mrs. Lincoln’s Rivalas well as the newest book that came out in June, Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, as soon as I can.

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