A real 19th-century Bourbon infanta is the inspiration for this novel about a princess who writes a rebellious feminist memoir.
It begins with a rejection letter informing HRH Eulalia of Spain that though there may be “a great deal of truth in what [she says],” Ediciones Medina “will not, today nor ever, publish this book.” From there, Acevedo (The Distant Marvels, 2015, etc.) launches a wonderfully compact saga that weaves together real and invented characters and events. Around the same time infanta Eulalia was born, at least in Acevedo’s version, so was a boy named Tomás in the village of Burgos—and when his mother, Amalia, was chosen as the infanta’s wet nurse, he became Eulalia’s “milk brother.” Mother and son traveled to the Palacio Real, where for nearly two years they lived among the intrigues, infidelities, and indoor peacocks of the Spanish court. As much as Amalia misses her husband, the person she really pines for is her best friend, the midwife Gisela, but troubles similar to those that plague the palace are afoot at home, forever changing the relationships of all the key characters. In the next section of the book, we hear from Eulalia and Tomás, each telling one part of the story that brought them together again—she as the author of a scathing memoir, still trapped in her royal role; he as an unsuccessful bookseller asked by Su Alteza (her highness) to find her a publisher. From there the story finds its way to revolutionary Cuba and on to the Chicago Exposition of 1893, with a coda set in 1915. The dramatic changes of the period spanned by the book, which begins in a world which seems not far from medieval and ends among light bulbs, hotel rooms, and train stations, are subtly evoked, and its feminist themes are fitted elegantly into that frame.
Fresh, fast-moving historical fiction from a master storyteller.