The Wide World Dreaming

Written by JoAnne Soper Cook
Review by Vicki Kondelik

The Wide World Dreaming tells the story of Napoleon’s life, beginning with his childhood on Corsica. Told in the first person from Napoleon’s point of view, this novel follows him through his years at a military school in France and as a young army officer during the French Revolution. He tells the story of his campaign in Egypt; his rise to power as First Consul and, a few years later, as Emperor of the French; his disastrous invasion of Russia; and his fall from power and his exile, first on Elba, then, after his escape and defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, on St. Helena.

There is much that is compelling in this novel. Particularly vivid are the descriptions of Napoleon’s campaign in the deserts of Egypt, his coronation as Emperor, and his retreat from Moscow through the fierce cold of the Russian winter. Although it takes some getting used to, the present tense verbs give a sense of immediacy to the historical events.

Unfortunately, there is also much that is disturbing. In the very first chapter, the five-year-old Napoleon sees a little girl raped by her grandfather. Napoleon also has several homosexual affairs throughout the novel, and he has a sexual desire for his sister Pauline. The sex is quite explicit at times, and I wish the author had told us what sources she used.

In general, there was too much emphasis on Napoleon’s sexual adventures, especially since some very important events of his life were omitted. The author says nothing of his Italian campaign or about the coup d’etat that brought him to power in 1799. Because of these omissions, and because of some very disturbing scenes, I cannot recommend the book as highly as I would like.