Mademoiselle Revolution by Zoe Sivak
Xolo Score 4.75/5
As the biracial daughter of a wealthy coffee planter in 1971, Saint-Domingue Sylvie de Rosiers was born a free woman who enjoyed the particular comforts of the aristocracy. But Sylvie is emotionally and ideologically shaken after the public execution of the revolutionary Vincent Ogé. After a violent rebellion begins the Haitian Revolution, Sylvie questions the privileges her upbringing has afforded her. She and her brother, Gaspard, flee to Paris to seek refuge with an aunt. Sylvie soon befriends Cornélie Duplay, a painter and the mistress of the famous revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. The siblings are swooped up into the later years of the French revolution, where they plan on atoning for their family’s sins.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Sylvia’s journey and character development are exceptionally complex. In the beginning, Sylvie, like many mulattoes, distanced themselves from their African roots for the perceived benefits of their proximity to whiteness, such as living free of enslavement. But Sylvie’s solid moral compass emboldens her to protect her family’s enslaved house workers from her murderous older brother the night of the uprising. And that same moral compass allows her to seamlessly join in the just-seeking of the French Revolution once in Paris. She carries the guilt of her ancestor’s sins and atones by actively entangling herself personally and romantically with some significant revolution members. At first, her love, optimism, and naivete lead Sylvie to believe the violence and persecutions of the Reign of Terror are for a free and equal France. But in time finds the inner strength to stand up for herself and what is right.
Sylvie’s perspective and introspection bring a deep sense of the complexity of a revolution’s impact on the oppressed and marginalized. Sylvie acknowledges her privileges as a biracial woman born free into an aristocracy. But she still endures overt and subtle racism and sexism from strangers and comrades alike. That drives her to push her comrades into striving for complete liberation for all, not just those at the top of the social hierarchy – “freedom could not be piecemeal. Either you had it, or you didn’t.”
Mademoiselle Revolution is solely written from Sylvie’s point of view. It is, therefore, limited in acknowledging the deeper impacts and roots of French colonization on the native people of Saint-Domingue. Sylvie mentions that Saint-Domingue had only celebrated its 132nd birthday as a colony. And that the city didn’t have such an immediate history to it. This observation doesn’t acknowledge the indigenous history and civilization eradicated during colonization. And if it had not been for its colonization, Saint-Domingue would have looked as historical as Paris.
Mademoiselle Revolution is an eye-opening historical fiction centered on a perspective often overlooked in revolutions.
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