Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Cassandra, Lost by Joanna Catherine Scott

 Book synopsis from Alibris:
Inspired by a true story, this novel traces the fortunes of a wealthy 19th-century Maryland woman named Cassandra Owings. In love with a French aristocrat who fought for America in the Revolution, she elopes with him to France, only to find his family in the grip of the Reign of Terror. She also finds a friend--and eventually a lover--in her husband's friend Jean Lafitte, part of a counterrevolutionary movement. When the mob closes in, Cassandra, her husband, Lafitte, and other sympathizers are forced to flee back to America. They settle in New Orleans, and when Cassandra's husband dies of yellow fever, she takes off by ship to meet Lafitte, now a notorious pirate--and a band of pirates attacks her ship. What happens next is a matter of historical dispute. 
Cassandra, Lost, by Joanna Catherine Scott, is the story of a young woman who runs away from her home in Maryland to marry the Frenchman she loves. They end up in Revolutionary France and witness a lot of the horrors that members of the aristocracy faced during the time. They manage to flee Paris with their lives and settle in New Orleans and raise a family. The book is the story of Cassandra's life--the growth of her family, her loves, her losses, and her eventual disappearance. I actually quite enjoyed it.

The book is roughly based on the actual life of a woman named Cassandra Owings Van Pradelles, who eloped at age 15 and went to live with her husband in France in 1790. Scott takes a number of liberties in telling the story, but I can accept that in a book that is admittedly historical fiction and based on the life of a woman about whom there is little information to work from. I was able to find a little bit of historical information on Cassandra's life in an article about her son, Albert Gallatin Van Pradelles.

There is a point in the book where several years pass by quite quickly, and suddenly Cassandra has five children, which I wish would have been fleshed out a bit more. I felt like I never really understood her relationship with any of her other children besides the first one and the last one. It leaves the book feeling a bit disjointed. There is also an episode in Cassandra's life when she is not faithful to her husband. Infidelity usually turns me off in a book, but even though I spent much of that part of the book cringing I still kept reading and wanted to know what would happen.

I think this is the first book I've read set in Revolutionary France (even if it is only for half of the book), and I haven't really read much non-fiction on it either. It makes me want to pick up another book about it. Although it is definitely not the best historical fiction I've read this year, Cassandra, Lost was still an interesting book, and even more so since it is loosely based on the life of a woman who actually existed. I'm glad I read it. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Book Details:
Joanna Catherine Scott. Cassandra, Lost. St. Martin's Griffin, 2005. 336 pp. $14.95. ISBN 978-0312319434.



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