Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

America's First Daughter
by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie
Pub. Date:  March 1, 2016
Publisher:  William Morrow
Pages:  624
Format:  eARC
Source:  Edelweiss

My Rating:  

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

This long and detailed story is the historically fictional account of the Jefferson family saga, based on true events. It was utterly fascinating and educational. If only we could read books like this in school, I would have learned way more about history. This book spans two revolutions, countless historical figures, the life and career of Thomas Jefferson, and the coming-of-age of his eldest daughter, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph.

The founding fathers are so idealized and placed on a pedestal as heroes, that its easy to forget that they were actual men. Men of great ideals of democracy and liberty, yet also with great flaws. This book does not pull its punches when it comes to the hypocrisies of our historical heroes, but it also shows the struggle that the men (and their families) endured for their causes. I think that was the most eye-opening aspect of this book for me... the strife, heartache, scandal and poverty that was suffered in the name of public service.

When I think back to what I learned in school of Thomas Jefferson, I realize that I only really got the highlights. I remembered his authoring the Declaration of Independence, his presidency, and brokering the Louisiana Purchase, but that's about it. So this book was highly educational for me and I loved reading about his ministry in France, and was shocked that his dedication to public service literally beggared him. You see the conflict in the legend who wrote "all men are created equal" and the man who continued to own slaves and had a long-standing affair with his wife's half-sister and slave, Sally Hemings. I find it extraordinary that his life and career was documented so well in the copious letters he wrote (18,000!). Historical fans will be happy to discover that the almost all of Jefferson's dialogue from America's First Daughter came directly from Jefferson's letters, some of which Patsy published after her father's death.

As for Patsy herself, I am in awe of her character, dedication, loyalty and perseverance. At great sacrifice to herself and her own potential happiness, Patsy was truly devoted to her father from the date of her mother's death until he joined her in the grave. She saw Thomas Jefferson through dark and difficult times, supported him in times of triumph, and was the sole person he relied on without fail throughout his adult life. I can't say that she lead a happy life. Her life was very hard, and I admire the heck out of this lady who I had never even heard of until I read this wonderful book. And can I just say - TWELVE CHILDREN! I cannot imagine raising a family in the midst of political and personal turmoil, trying to support an aging and ofttimes troubled father, and suffering abuse from an alcoholic husband. It is wonderful to see Martha Jefferson Randolph memorialized in this book that tells the story of the woman/daughter behind one of the great men of the time.

This is one of those books that you feel a little more intelligent after finishing. The appearance of other great historical figures in the story really piqued my interest, particularly with regard to Lafayette, Dolly Madison and Abigail Adams. I love learning while being entertained, and hope that Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray continue to publish stories of this nature. I received an advanced copy of this book from William Morrow via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.