Napoleon the Novelist 

The Literary Hill

577

We’re all familiar with Napoleon the military hero and conqueror. But who knew he was also a novelist?

Local author Margaret Rodenberg has used his romantic novella, “Clisson et Eugénie,” as a springboard for her beautifully crafted novel, “Finding Napoleon.” Interspersing segments of Bonaparte’s semi-autobiographic work with her own imagined tale, she tells the story of his upbringing, his battles, and his final days in exile.

Sick and dispirited, Napoleon finds himself on St. Helena Island, installed in a summer pavilion that is a “pleasant place. Nonetheless—an oath escaped the Emperor’s lips—a prison yard.” He has lost his infant son to a “golden cage” at the Austrian court and is surrounded by a handful of compatriots whose loyalty he mistrusts, including the adulterous Albine de Montholan whose husband “gives” her to the Emperor to curry his favor.

While he plots to escape the island and be reunited with his son, Napoleon pens his novel, investing Clisson with his own fervor—“I was born for war”—as well as his resentments and regrets. Around him, intrigue and treachery swirl. As he confides in his one true ally, an enslaved boy named Tobyson, telling traitors from friends is difficult. “That, my son, is the lesson. Once you’re a leader, you can’t trust anyone.”

In this romantic and earthy novel, Rodenberg has given us a fully fleshed-out Napoleon in his many facets—father, lover, friend, and warrior—who, even disgraced and in exile, maintains a stubborn pride in who he had been and who he is. “If not an Emperor, if not free, he was still Napoleon. That might be enough.”

Margaret Rodenberg became interested in the history of France when she lived there as a teen with her US Navy family, who also resided on the Hill for more than 30 years. www.margaretrodenberg.com

Truth and Consequences in Ninjastoria

As “Shogun Showdown” opens, Ninja Steve is ducking tomatoes being hurled at him by his sensei. It’s all part of his training for the Unlimited Power Tournament, a contest of strength and agility held annually in Ninjastoria, the fictional world created by Grant Goodman in his Agent Darcy & Ninja Steve books. Steve hopes that, by winning first prize, he can lure his lost sister back into the family fold.

2. “Shogun Showdown” cover and photo of Grant Goodman
Caption: English teacher Grant Goodman used this spring’s school closures to draft “Shogun Showdown,” his fourth Agent Darcy & Ninja Steve adventure.

Meanwhile, his friend Darcy is on the soccer field, where she’s distracted by a sharp pain in her hand, which then bursts into flames (don’t you hate when that happens?). Beyond her immediate aim of dousing her hand and winning the game, her ultimate goal is to find and free her parents, who are trapped in a mysterious netherworld called the Nexus.

While they grapple with reuniting their fragmented families, both tweens make unlikely friendships—Darcy with a girl who had once bullied her and Steve with the son of a sworn enemy who, when they first met, “had spouted nothing but gross lies about ninjas that made them out to be horrible monsters.”

Correcting misconceptions is only one of the eye-opening aspects to the adventure that Steve and Darcy undertake. They also learn lessons in openness and honesty, in the importance of facing problems head-on, and in being brave enough to tell hard truths despite the consequences. Creative, funny (watch out for the Dad jokes), and full of action, grit, and heart, “Shogun Showdown” is an inspired addition to this lively series (not just) for young adults.

Grant Goodman is a local middle school teacher whose previous books include “Tiger Trouble,” “Robot Rumble!,” and “Mecha-Mole Mayhem.” Find more at www.GrantGoodmanbooks.com.

Panic in the Streets

By now, we all know how to avoid getting the coronavirus, but, according to a new book of essays, “we lack the guidelines for how to weather the social and personal upheavals.” In “How to Respond in a Pandemic,” editors Joan Ferrante and Chris Caldeira have invited experts associated with Northern Kentucky University to share ideas about how their academic disciplines can help us cope. The 25 authors, who represent a wide array of fields, wrestle with tough questions and try to provide their locked-out students—as well as the rest of us—with some answers.

3. “How to Respond in a Pandemic” cover and photo of Tom Zaniello
Caption: Film expert Tom Zaniello parses pandemic cinema as a way of understanding our current situation in “How to Respond in a Pandemic.”

Local writer Tom Zaniello, who taught film studies, contributes a chapter called “See the Predictability in the Chaos of Pandemics,” in which he examines what “pandemic cinema” can tell us about our current situation.  He notes that movies about disease outbreaks follow a narrative arc that mirrors that of real pandemics, from identification of the first victims to “panic in the streets” (which is the title of a 1950 movie he cites).

As he illustrates, pandemic movies also depict some of the things we have seen over the past year: “foreigners” being blamed for the disease, conspiracy theories, jurisdictional infighting, and government and military overreach. Zaniello suggests that these common patterns, as well as other predictable indicators, can “serve as a guide” that will help us in responding to the current crisis and [gulp] make us “more attentive and proactive with the next pandemic.”

Tom Zaniello is a professor emeritus of Northern Kentucky University and has been a film programmer for the Hill Center. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, “The Cinema of the Precariat: The Exploited, Underemployed, and Temp Workers of the World.” Find him on Facebook @tzaniello.

On the Border of Hope

David E. Bonior is a man of many passions. During his nearly three decades in the US House of Representatives (D-MI), he championed a variety of progressive causes and battled politicians whose judgment and ethics he questioned. Now he has melded several of his  interests—immigration policy and reform in the Catholic Church—into a new novel.

4. “When Mercy Seasons Justice” cover and photo of David Bonior
Caption: A novel by former Congressman David Bonior, “When Mercy Seasons Justice,” addresses immigration and reform in the Catholic Church.

In “When Mercy Seasons Justice: Pope Francis and a Story of Migration,” Bonior uses his knowledge of actual conditions to tell the stories of fictional families fleeing gang violence in Central America, detailing the rigors of their journeys across miles of rugged terrain, the bandits and the good Samaritans they encounter, the detention centers they end up in (if they’re lucky), and their fight to obtain asylum in the US.

Interspersed with their experiences are those of religious figures—including actual people such as Pope Francis—who are not only trying to support refugees but are also battling on the dual fronts of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the “stained glass ceiling” that prevents women from taking leadership roles.

Moving back and forth between the US-Mexican border and the Vatican, Bonior weaves a tale that, like the efforts to address the real-life problems he describes, inspire frustration, discouragement, and, ultimately, hope.

David Bonior served as a Congressman from 1976 to 2002, and was Democratic Whip for the last 11 years of his tenure. He is the author of several books, including a memoir titled “Whip: Leading the Progressive Battle During the Rise of the Right.” Proceeds from the sale of “When Mercy Seasons Justice” will go to EarthBeat, an environmental newsletter published by the National Catholic Reporter. www.NCRonline.org/Earthbeat.