The bestselling author of Schindler’s List and The Daughters of Mars returns with a remarkable novel about the friendship between a quick-witted young woman and one of history’s most intriguing figures, Napoleon Bonaparte, during the final years of his life in exile on St. Helena—hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “insightful and nimble...consistently fresh and engaging...call[ing] to mind the giants of 19th century fiction.”
In October 1815, after losing the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to the island of Saint Helena. There, in one of the most remote places on earth, he lived out the final six years of his life. On this lonely island with no chance of escape, he found an unexpected ally: a spirited British girl named Betsy Balcombe who lived on the island with her family. While Napoleon waited for his own accommodations to be built, the Balcombe family played host to the infamous exile, a decision that would have devastating consequences for them all.
In Napoleon’s Last Island, “master of character development and period detail” (Kirkus Reviews) Thomas Keneally recreates Betsy’s powerful and complex friendship with the man dubbed The Great Ogre, her enmities and alliances with his remaining courtiers, and her dramatic coming-of-age. Bringing a shadowy period of history to life with a brilliant attention to detail, Keneally tells the untold story of one of Europe’s most enigmatic, charismatic, and important figures, and the ordinary British family who dared to forge a connection with him.
Australian author Keneally (The Daughters of Mars) once again uses fiction to illuminate a little-known aspect of history. In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte is exiled to the English-governed island of St. Helena. His residence not yet ready, he and his retinue are taken in by William Balcombe, a representative of the East India Company, who has two daughters, Betsy and Jane. The Balcombes, as well as everyone else on the island, find Napoleon to be a charming houseguest, instead of the Great Ogre. But 13-year-old Betsy, smart and independent-minded, is not so easily won over, and her relationship with the former emperor is initially fractious. Eventually, though, their friendship becomes the talk of the island. Then, a new governor to St. Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, cracks down on Napoleon's life in exile, cutting his household budget and staff and confiscating Christmas gifts, and even the Balcombes are made to suffer. Ultimately, a shocking scene forces Betsy to reevaluate everything she thinks she knows about her parents, her neighbors, and her new friend. Narrated by Betsy, Keneally's book gives readers a persuasive account of this precocious teenager's view of the world's most infamous man. He makes Betsy an engaging and witty presence, and he charts her destiny into her post St. Helena existence, where the short general's long shadow continues to affect her life. Like the late E.L. Doctorow, Keneally adapts his style to suit his subject matter, and here the high formality of 19th-century journal-keeping helps bring alive the bittersweet last days of Napoleon.