Best-selling author Berg (Tapestry of Fortunes, 2013, etc.) turns her attention to the life of French writer George Sand with this vivid historical novel.
The book begins twice: It's 1831, and Aurore Dupin, a free-spirited young woman, is leaving her loveless marriage in the French countryside for a creative, bohemian life in Paris—the life that will lead her to become literary icon George Sand. Then time whips backward: It’s 1804, and the scene is Aurore’s birth. Her mother is fiery, passionate, low-born and beautiful; her father is handsome, musical, charming, a military star. And so Berg sets off on a project that’s part biography, part George Sand fantasy, alternating between scenes from Aurore’s fairy-tale childhood and tales of her adult affairs—her brilliant career, her difficult family life, her struggles with femininity and the limitations of femaleness, her complicated sexuality, and, above all, her many, many whirlwind romances. “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved,” Sand once wrote, and it is that quest that becomes the focal point of Berg’s novel: We follow Aurore in and out of her loveless marriage, through passionate relationships and bright-burning assignations, many of them with historical characters famous in their own rights. Her work, we are told, comes easily and brilliantly and is met with perpetual praise and complete success; her politics are progressive and generally to be admired. A more nuanced exploration of her professional and political life might have brought Berg’s Sand necessary humanity and texture, providing both a foil and a context for her love affairs. As it is, though, Aurore—for all that she's intoxicating, beautiful, gifted, desirous, unconventional and heartbroken—never quite becomes human. She remains mythlike, and we remain one step removed.
A thoroughly pleasant escape, if not a particularly deep one.