Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life

(If you are here through Show & Tell this week, I posted this particular review because of it's treatment of infertility and infant loss.)

This month my book club tried something new: each person read a biography of their choice of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. At the meeting we discussed not only her life but also the various ways that same life was handled by each author. (You can read more about our book club meeting, including what each gal read, here.)

I chose to read Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life, by Donald Spoto. Perhaps it was simply because I didn't know a great deal about Jackie, but I found this book to be fascinating!

Of course I've always known WHO Jackie is. Just like I've always known who John F. Kennedy is. But boy, I really didn't know ANYTHING about their lives. From Jackie's social climbing mother and philandering father to her induction into the boisterous and all-powerful Kennedy clan, from her controversial marriage to Aristotle Onassis to her career as editor and her relationship with Maurice Templesman, Spoto's book covered it all. Despite her insecurities, Jackie was a highly intelligent woman who charmed statesmen (like Charles de Gaulle) and influence politics behinds the scenes (by educating John Kennedy and guiding his decisions). She was truly an amazing woman.

I won't go into her whole life here, but I do want to mention a few things that might be appealing to all you bookish people out there. ~ During Jackie's days at boarding school, she read Jane Eyre. The school itself had a bit of a mystery in it's recent history, and many of the girls identified with the characters in Jane Eyre because of that. ~ John Kennedy was a sickly child and spent much of his time in bed reading. ~ When John and Jackie were dating, they most often gave each other books as gifts. ~ Jackie read books in several languages and often translated important parts for John when he was President. ~ During her marriage to Onassis, she often read a book a day while staying in Greece. ~ In her later years she turned per passion for language and books into a highly successful career as an editor. ~ She once introduced her son, John, to her boss by saying, "John, this is the man who gives me money to buy books." I loved reading that line; despite her large fortune, she still appreciated her career and it's connection to books. ~ Jackie's love of books, reading, and learning is a big theme throughout her life.

Another part of her life I found very interesting was her experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. Again, because I didn't live through this time period I had no idea about this (although my mom and other ladies in my book club remembered some of this very clearly). Jackie miscarried her first child very early in the pregnancy. Her second pregnancy went full term (I think - I can't quite recall now) but resulted in a stillborn daughter, Arabella. Her third pregnancy was successful; daughter Caroline was born safe and healthy. John Jr. followed a few years later, but his birth was scary (Jackie started bleeding and delivered a bit early). Jackie's last pregnancy resulted in the birth of a boy, Patrick, who lived for only two days. For the most part, John Kennedy was uninvolved with the births (and deaths) of his children. The loss of the first two pregnancies didn't seem to affect him at all. The death of Patrick was a different story though; most people agree that he was a changed man after that loss. [As a side note, Spoto's book does not delve into the possible reasons for any of the pregnancy losses but one of the books another book club gal read did; her book suggests that John had Chlamydia and that it had something to do with Jackie's infertility.]

And speaking of Patrick, after his death in August 1963, Jackie went away for two weeks in October to basically escape her life. When she returned, her relationship with her husband was better than it had ever been. The following month, John and Jackie traveled to Texas to campaign ... and John was killed. Less than 5 years later, Martin Luther King - a man she greatly admired and supported - was killed. Two months after that, her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy was killed. By this point, Jackie was scared - and with reason. I can't believe how much trauma this woman had in her life in such a short period of time. For me, the most chilling line in the book was when Jackie expressed her fear for her children's lives to a friend, saying "They are killing Kennedys!"

I can't say enough how fascinating this book was to me. I'll admit that it was the subject matter that intrigued me, but Spoto's treatment of his subject was quite good as well. I found out later that Spoto has written many other biographies. I'm not surprised! He has the ability to touch on the important events without going overboard on them while not completely neglecting the lesser events. All in all,, I highly recommend this book.

13 comments:

bermudaonion said...

She was a remarkable woman, wasn't she? She managed to raise to great kids even with all of that trauma in her life.

Amanda said...

Another book to add to my to-read list! Thanks! :-)

Violet said...

I saw her biography just yesterday on the History channel. And I was surprised by how much i didn't know about her.

Kristin said...

Wow...it sounds like a fascinating book. I knew she had had losses but didn't realize it was that many.

WiseGuy said...

That's a very nice review there...and you have a good thing going wh the books. Keep it up and be good!

Ti said...

As you said, we know of her but we don't know much about her. Wow..I had no idea about the miscarriages and still births. She was such a strong woman.

avisannschild said...

Sounds like a fun meeting! I also didn't realize how many losses she had suffered (nor did I know she'd been an editor, for that matter). Thanks for reviewing this book!

Nan said...

Oh, thank you for this! I did a book report a while back:
http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2007/06/book-reportthe-private-passion-of.html

in which I asked for suggestions of biographies of her. I heard via email from a friend about one called America's Queen by Sarah Bradford, which I bought (but haven't read yet). I'll add this one to my shopping list. She was a fascinating woman, and I'm just glad for her she died before her son. You might like the one I read, especially if you like horses! It was a fascinating concept.

I'd love to know the other books your group read, Heather.

Heather J. said...

bermudaonion - yes, I agree. She was amazing and did a great many things with her life despit the enormous challenges she faced.

amanda - can't wait for YOUR review!

violet - I'll keep my eye out for a rerun of that biography for sure.

kristin & ti & avianschild - I couldn't believe it myself, I just had no idea about the realities of her life.

wiseguy - thanks for stopping by.

nan - here's the link to my book club's review, along with the list of who read what. And here is the link to another Jackie book I reviewed recently.

Another Dreamer said...

That was very interesting. I never knew much about her, but wow. Thanks for sharing.

Brenda said...

I have to admit, I have never been really interested in what I always thought the romantic notion of the Kennedy's life (tragic as it has been). However, your mini-review has really opened my eyes. Perhaps a new book is on my horizon....

Plays with Needles said...

great review! I don't know much about the Kennedy's either but I loved the snippets that you picked out to share. Thanks!

Bybee said...

I loved what her son said about her when she died: "She chose to die at home surrounded by her books and the people who love her."

I remember how everyone was so shocked when she chose to go to work after Onassis died. Ms. Magazine did a cover story!

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