Napoleon's History of Australia
by D.Y.Gilbert

"He was an exemplary father and husband and life raced past as life does when children move from childhood to adulthood."

A lively tale of one family's genealogy, Gilbert's book starts with the unfortunate birth of a bastard named Napoleon. Named for the notorious emperor in 1799, four years prior to Napoleon's first reign, the baby was meant to be delivered to a wet nurse in the country. A fortunate twist of fate leaves the infant with Joseph Gilbert and his wife. This one little fluke leads to the succession of fighters and dreamers to follow in his lineage.

While clearly researched and following the procession of family events such as births and deaths, this book reads more as memoir than a dry genealogical diary. The reader gets to know the author's ancestors as one would in a fictitious tale: through affectionate characterization, engaging plot lines, and simple but effective setting details. Gilbert invites the reader into the lives of her family and gives intimate descriptions so that they seem to shimmer like memories of someone once known.

Bertha, the "earthy girl" with knowledge about "animal mating and human sex," could fill an entire book with her personality, let alone her love affair with Winter. And it is this feeling of wanting to know more about Gilbert's ancestors that shows what an extraordinary job she has done of rendering them. We are sometimes given multiple accounts of who a person was each just as fascinating as the first, and each deepen the story with character. As Gilbert herself says, there is always more than one side to a story, and she has done a lovely job of delving into them and relaying them to her readers. In addition, Gilbert blends Australia's own history with that of the ancestors of Napoleon adding richness and depth to the story.

Return to USR Home