After listening to and practically memorizing “Hamilton: The Musical,” and then reading Hamilton’s biography, I couldn’t resist this version of the story from Eliza’s POV. It absolutely did not disappoint, and it also filled in lots of additional details that I didn’t get from Hamilton’s perspective.
While most historical retellings tend to stick to dry recitation of facts, this was different because it was a novel, and much the better for it. I loved the fact that it was told in first person from Betsy’s–later Eliza’s–perspective, and the reader only gets to know what she knew at the time, even though (being well acquainted with the story) I had a broader perspective. The authors admitted in an overview at the end that they took license here and there for the purpose of the narrative, but they never actually rewrote anything (unlike the musical); instead, they inferred what might have happened where the historical records left gaps. Whereas the musical version of Eliza seemed a bit like a sap, and not nearly as compelling a character as her sister Angelica, I absolutely loved her in this. I have great admiration for her fortitude and goodness, and great sympathy for all she endured. I had the impression from the musical and from Hamilton’s own biography that any love he had for her grew out of a sense of duty, while she blindly adored him until learning of his infidelity–after which history does not record how she responds, except to say that after his death she spends the next 50 years of her life fighting to make sure the history books remembered her husband’s accomplishments (implying that she forgave him). Seeing the story through her eyes, though, they are a very well-matched pair, and seemed to have a great marriage–so much so that even I was stunned when he revealed that he’d had an affair. I thought, surely the affair must be coming much later. He couldn’t have cheated on her while things had been going so well… could he?
And I believed his remorse, too. I even began to wonder whether the other reports I’d heard about his flirtatious relationship with Angelica had been historically inaccurate, because there was so little evidence of it from Eliza’s perspective… until after Angelica and Hamilton are both dead. I FELT this with Eliza… her emotions are so raw and understandable and real as she wrestles with how to make peace with her memories of the two people she loved most in the world, who may or may not have betrayed her.
The scope of the story is of course immense, as it covers the entire founding of America, and is populated with an “all-star” cast of historical figures, all of whom were Eliza’s contemporaries, friends, and sometimes enemies. The story is all the more compelling because it is also true. What a fantastic way to study history!
My review: *****