Finding Napoleon

Written by Margaret Rodenberg
Review by G. J. Berger

By 1815, Napoleon has lost everything and surrenders to Britain in the hope the Brits will treat him well. They banish him and his remaining servants and last hangers-on to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

Bored and confined, members of Napoleon’s entourage engage in constant mischief. They scheme to get sent home, spy on each other, and sell information to the British Lord Hudson Lowe. He, with the help of a garrison of soldiers, must govern the island and assure Napoleon does not rile up the locals, manage to escape, or send improper messages back to Europe. Poison, stilettos, and pistols find their uses. Through all the scheming, Napoleon comes across as a devoted father, a romantic charmer, and a clever judge of others. He treats commoners, children, and even slaves with respect.

In real life, Napoleon had penned his own never-finished novel about love and war. Like Napoleon, its main character was born on Corsica and from an early age yearned for battle and sought revenge against the dissolute French rulers. Rodenberg completes Napoleon’s novella and layers her own version, chapter by chapter, into the main story.

Rodenberg’s knowledge of Napoleon and those close to him shows through on every page. Her sub-tropical, rat-infested St. Helena with its soldiers, shop-keeps, British settlers, and African slaves feels true. Her often engaging prose (“When a boy has been born into war, childhood goes missing”) helps carry the many intricate storylines played out by dozens of characters. The whole work presents a new and interesting exploration into the last years of one of history’s giants.