REVIEWED BY EMILY CHENOWETH
In this exceptional tale that takes the form of a memoir, the oft-maligned Marie Antoinette—now having a moment as the heroine of Sofia Coppola's latest film—shakes off two centuries of calumny to emerge as a kind of tragic heroine. Innocent and undereducated, the Austrian princess marries the French Dauphin at 14 and, like her 15-year-old husband, is wholly unprepared for the crown that becomes hers four years later. Falling to their knees and praying after King Louis XV succumbs to smallpox, the couple implore, "Dear God, guide us and help us. We are too young to reign." Despite their frivolity and willful ignorance—"Toinette" flirts and gambles all night while Louis XVI hunts and works in his smithy—the pair emerge as sympathetic characters. The author injects humanity into the two as, over the years, they become parents and grow into their authority. Naslund (Ahab's Wife) paints a richly detailed portrait of an opulent, turbulent time, revealing the Queen's journey—from frivolity to responsibility, and from palace to prison cell—to be one of striking beauty and terrible loss. "Ours is a cozy sorrow," the Queen writes in 1789, the day the National Assembly has formed to declare the sovereignty of the commoners. "We are living through the end of an era, but we are together."