By John Cheeran 23 years later, I re-read Desiree, the historical novel by Annemarie Selinko. Desiree – Citizeness Bernadine Eugenie Desiree Clary-, daughter of a Marseille silk merchant, was the first love of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Regarded as the most fascinating historical novel since Gone With the Wind, Desiree is an engaging and powerful read but, I guess, largely remains faithful to historical facts. Emperor Napoleon and his rival marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte played huge roles in the making of European history in the 18th and 19th century. But this spunky and loyal girl played an equally important role in the lives of these two men and, eventually, became the queen of Sweden. Everyone who knows about Napoleon also knows about queen Josephine. But not many know about Desiree, who as a 14-year-old, emptied her piggybank and gave a bankrupt, 24-year-old general Napoleon 98 francs to make his journey to Paris to plead his cause with army top brass. Before the world bet on Napoleon, Desiree had the first pick. Successful men are opportunists and Napoleon did not shy when opportunities beckoned him in Paris. He married Josephine to make his forays in the Parisian labyrinth and further his grand strategy. Annemarie Selinko writes the novel as a diary kept by Desiree. Its tone is intimate and direct. The simple, unaffected and short sentences convey the romance and breathlessness of, first the French revolution and then that of vaulting ambition of generals. In Desiree, Selinko gets quite closer to a woman’s heart, if such a thing is ever possible. The events that Desiree is privileged to witness are highly political but this is not a political novel. It’s a novel about trust, love and honour and how we react when confronted by events bigger than ourselves. It’s a must-read for you.
John Cheeran is an engineer-turned-journalist and has worked in such diverse media as Print, Internet and Radio. Cheeran has an abiding interest in cricket and its politics, and in politics in general.
Cheeran quit an Indian arm of the US-based global giants General Electric in 1994 to join Asian College of Journalism. He then went on to write on sports, and mainly on cricket, for newspapers such as The Indian Express, The Asian Age, The Pioneer and www.timesofindia.com in India. Cheeran also had a seven-year stint with Gulf News in Dubai.
He also wrote regularly for regional publications including Malayala Manorama and Deshabhimani during his student days.
During his career, Cheeran has reported a string of national and international tournaments including the 1999 Cricket World Cup held in England, the annual Dubai Desert Classic Golf Championship and Dubai Tennis Championship in Dubai, the ICC Champions Trophy in Dhaka, the Independence Cup Cricket Championship in India, Asian Test Championship and a number of Davis Cup ties in India. Now, Cheeran is an adjunct faculty at Online Media Centre in Chennai.