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The Dictator's Wife: The gripping BBC Two Between the Covers book club pick Hardcover – 17 Feb. 2022
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'I am not my husband. I am innocent. Do you believe me?'
The beautiful, enigmatic wife of a feared dictator stands trial for her late husband's crimes against the people. The world will finally know the truth. But whose? A BBC2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick.
'A gripping and moving debut' HARLAN COBEN, Sunday Times bestselling author of Stay Close
'A remarkable new talent' ANTHONY HOROWITZ, Sunday Times bestselling author of A Line to Kill
'A gripping, intelligent, utterly-of-the-moment thriller' EMMA STONEX, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Lamplighters
'Compelling, atmospheric. It's BRILLIANT' MARIAN KEYES, Sunday Times bestselling author of Again, Rachel
I learned early in life how to survive. A skill that became vital in my position.
I was given no power, yet I was expected to hold my own with the most powerful man in the country.
MOTHER OF THE NATION
My people were my children. I stood between him and them.
I am not the person they say I am.
I am not my husband.
I am innocent.
Do you believe me?
'A captivating story of women's power, love and secrets. As timely and profound as it is unforgettable. The ending left me breathless' LARA PRESCOTT, New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets We Kept
'A fascinating exploration of absolute power, female agency and the complexities of complicity. Atmospheric, claustrophobic and so elegantly written' ELLERY LLOYD, New York Times bestselling author of The Club
'This book is magnificent' CHARLOTTE PHILBY
'Richly imagined' THE TIMES
'You won't find many better literary debuts than this' NEW EUROPEAN
'Demands to be devoured in one sitting. Sumptuously written... One of the most compelling literary debuts of the year' GLAMOUR
'Spellbinding' JANE SHEMLIT
'Darkly compelling' STYLIST
'One of the most original debuts I have read' DAISY GOODWIN
'A darkly atmospheric, rich, compulsive and page-turning read' KATE HAMER
'An unconventional legal thriller and absorbing debut that is as satisfyingly complex in both its plotting and moral conclusions' EXPRESS
'Excellent. Horrifying and immersive with strong characterisation and atmosphere' HARRIET TYCE
'Engrossing, evocative, chillingly claustrophobic. Wonderfully written' KAREN HAMILTON
'Richly and imaginatively crafted' IRISH INDEPENDENT
'A thrilling novel' OLIVIA VINALL
'A masterful portrait of a self-made woman who is both devil and angel. Like the real-life dictator's wives that inspired her, she's unforgettable' ANIKA SCOTT
A remarkable new talent-- ANTHONY HOROWITZ, bestselling author of A Line to Kill
This book is magnificent -- CHARLOTTE PHILBY, bestselling author of A Double Life
A captivating story of women's power, love and secrets. As timely and profound as it is unforgettable. The ending left me breathless -- LARA PRESCOTT, New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets We Kept
A gripping and moving debut from a talent to watch -- HARLAN COBEN
A fascinating exploration of absolute power, female agency and the complexities of complicity. Atmospheric, claustrophobic and so elegantly written -- ELLERY LLOYD
A darkly atmospheric, rich, compulsive and page-turning read -- KATE HAMER
One of the most original debuts I have read -- DAISY GOODWIN
Excellent. Horrifying and immersive with strong characterisation and atmosphere -- HARRIET TYCE
Engrossing, evocative, chillingly claustrophobic. Wonderfully written -- KAREN HAMILTON
A thrilling novel -- OLIVIA VINALL
- Publisher : Headline Review (17 Feb. 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1472276302
- ISBN-13 : 978-1472276308
- Dimensions : 16 x 3.8 x 23.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 9,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 21 February 2022
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I do not usually read books by authors I have not heard of - but something about this truly magical.
I do not think I have ever found a book that so perfectly combines beautiful literary prose with a plot that forces you to keep reading. From the moment you enter the fascinating and dark world of Marija - the spell binding dictators wife - you just have to know what happens to her. The stakes are so high - and yet she remains un-phased and forces us to play by her rules. Perhaps we all want to be a bit more like this woman.
What really struck me however was not how the plot demanded I could not stop being pulled though the life of these fascinating characters in the trial - but the beauty of the sentences and insights as it did so. Freya Berry offers up the most wondrous prose - and in my experience it is truly rare to be so gripped and so delighted at the same time.
It's now 1993, and Constantin Popa is dead, torn apart by a rioting crowd during an uprising in 1989. Laura is returning to Yanussia as a junior associate on the legal team appointed to defend the woman who was once lauded as the Mother of the Nation, his wife, the beautiful and charismatic Marìja Popa - now rather less flatteringly known as The Black Widow.
Marija stands charged with the crimes committed by her husband, including corruption on a staggering scale. The new regime is determined that the death penalty will be her fate, and her legal team need to somehow prove that she had no knowledge of what he was up to, a task that is going to be an uphill struggle when even the first step in the process is proving to be tricky - after all how did a couple ostensibly earning only twenty thousand dollars a year afford the luxuries they surrounded themselves with, including a priceless Picasso?
But the legal challenges are not the only thing causing Laura consternation. She was completely unprepared for the impact of being thrust back into a country which seems to have improved little from Popa's time. Even though the once all-seeing Strajă has been disbanded, the feeling of being watched is ever present, and the atmosphere in Casa Iubită, Marija's family home, where they are being confined for their 'safety', is stifling.
Then, or course, there is the enigmatic woman herself, Marija Popa. Laura unexpectedly finds herself under her spell, caught in a web of secrets and lies that tie them together through a mystery surrounding Laura's own family. Is Marija guilty or innocent, and is she manipulating Laura for her own ends?
Where do I start? My goodness, this is one of those books that compels you to devour it in one delicious sitting! Freya Berry conjures up absolute magic here with her portrayal the most mysterious of characters, the woman who stands at the side of a dictator, and forces you to address the questions we all want to know the answers to... How much does she know about the dastardly deeds of her husband? Is she controlled, or complicit?
Firstly, Berry creates the perfect setting for her characters to play out their tortured games. Yanussia is a former communist state based closely on Romania, and many of the scenes and policies she describes are inspired by the detailed research she undertook about the history of that country under its own tyrannical dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. This brings a real feeling of authenticity to the piece, but it is not just this that makes it so delectable. In setting her story in 1993, Berry allows herself to run riot with a backdrop that is steeped in the chaos of Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Yanussia stands as the epitome of the struggles of a former communist state not only trying to break free of the shadows of its past - but also to show the world that it is atoning for its sins. The atmosphere, the suspicion, the balancing act of a new regime, the social and economic unrest, and intriguingly the re-education of a population that has been indoctrinated from birth to consider its former leaders as 'saviours', are threads perfectly woven into the story.
And then, we have Marija herself. Marija is the heart of this tale and you find yourself holding your breath whenever she appears. Beautifully drawn to encapsulate everything the iconic wife of a dictator has been shown to be, she is charismatic, beautiful, poised, and unfathomable. There are shades of many of the women we know from history in Marija, especially Eva Peron and Imelda Marcos, with the unmistakable seductive charm of the velvet glove that softens the blow of the iron fist. Through Marija Berry explores the female side of the dictator equation, delving into thought provoking themes of complicity, the way women wield power, and how their guilt is ascribed following the death of their husbands, while her relationship with Laura drives us to confront the blacks, whites and all the shades of grey that are part of her make up - before clawing through her web of deceit with the blood red talons of the shocking truth.
Along the way, there are cleverly wielded elements that deal with mother-daughter relationships and the notion of sacrifice that are really interesting too, and Berry uses the motifs of the colour red, honey bees, and hands around necks to great effect throughout.
This book is a stunning debut, beautifully written in a style that has you frequently stopping short to admire clever use of breath-taking simile and metaphor (have your note book handy to jot them down, because these are gold!). I cannot encourage you enough to read this one, as it held me spellbound from the first page to the last, and I seriously need more Freya Berry in my life!