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Apr 11, 2011

Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona


Paperback, Simon & Schuster, April 12, 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Book Review Rating: 5 stars
Woman is born free, and everywhere she is in corsets. . . .

Lili du Chatelet yearns to know more about her mother, the brilliant French mathematician Emilie. But the shrouded details of Emilie's unconventional life—and her sudden death—are elusive. Caught between the confines of a convent upbringing and the intrigues of the Versailles court, Lili blossoms under the care of a Parisian salonniere as she absorbs the excitement of the Enlightenment, even as the scandalous shadow of her mother's past haunts her and puts her on her own path of self-discovery.

Laurel Corona's breathtaking new novel, set on the eve of the French Revolution, vividly illuminates the tensions of the times, and the dangerous dance between the need to conform and the desire to chart one's own destiny and journey of the heart.
Finding Emilie is about a young lady, Lili, looking to replace the void that was created within her as her mother, Emilie, passes away soon after Lili's birth and her father wants nothing to do with her. It starts off with a group of letters which sets the scene for how Lili came to be and for a bit of characterization of the supporting figures that are in her life.

Lili grows up with Delphine and is treated as part of the family under Madame de Bercy's roof, and where she is allowed to cultivate the spirit and inquisitive nature that she inherited from her scientific mother. The setting is the Enlightenment age of France, even though Voltaire's wild views were ridiculed by the French government. Lili and Delphine prosper under Delphine's mother's watchful but tolerant care, and eventually the two realize they must part and make good marriages. What comes next is the proverbial race to the finish line, hoping against hope the two girls will be able to make marriages that are both advantageous and amenable at the same time.

Much like the stories that I grew up with, there is a lot of wishful thinking and fairy-tale whimsies so typical in young girls, but I loved the way it was told. I was totally immersed in the character of Lili, even though it was told in third person I felt very close to her throughout Lili's story of self-discovery. Even though there were a lot of scientific references as Lili explored flowers under microscopes and thought about philosophies, I was not put off with the amount of it. I must have felt I was close to discovering the meaning of the universe right along with Lili.

A strong feature of the novel were the very characters, from the boys to the men and the servants in the many grand houses that were frequented. There were balls and the queen, and Voltaire, too. I loved feeling like I was whisked away to another time, as author Laurel Corona captured the essence of her characters with exquisite detail, making me feel like I had lost a friend when I concluded the novel. I was not disillusioned at all with the fact that the novel focused more on the character of Lili rather than solely on the historical details of the pre-revolutionary France, as I did not pick up the book with any expectations of the latter. By doing so, I was taken by surprise with how Laurel Corona's writing immediately drew me into her reimagined world of the daughter of Emilie du Châtelet and the story of her coming of age. Finding Emilie goes easily on my favorites of 2011 list.