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Publisher's Summary

A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman's life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at 27 in post-Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He's the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer, a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret's mother calls the match a piece of luck.

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew's obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life is a beautiful evocation of a woman's inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

©2010 Jane Smiley (P)2010 Random House

Critic Reviews

"Smiley casts a gimlet eye on the institution of marriage even as she offers a fascinating glimpse of a distant era." ( Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Emily
  • East Hampton, NY, USA
  • 05-15-17

Perfect Marriage of Text and Narrator

This novel is so amazing and so beautifully narrated that I have listened to it twice. Perhaps one must be middle aged to appreciate the wisdom -- both tragic and comic -- of Jane Smiley's perspective on a traditional relationship lasting many years. This book is profound in its delineation of the ambivalence and the ambiguity implicit in marriage and the slow coming to consciousness of its 'heroine'.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Trapped as a woman of this time can be

This story is a slow burn of a woman trapped by the expectations of society - a society that devalues unmarried women, that considers men's intellect superior and allows people to be labeled and robbed of reaching their potential. The narrative is also a slow burn, plodding on with a building sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Expertly narrated by Kate Reading.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • LW
  • 11-07-11

Terrible Narration

This is one of my favorite authors but I am dropping the audio book after a few hours of listening to this woman read it as if to rest home inhabitants - so boring!
I will pick up the book from the library and proceed with the rest of the story which I'm sure is a good one, but not when read by this narrator!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Annette
  • Scheyern, Germany
  • 01-02-12

Interessantes Buch

What did you like best about Private Life? What did you like least?

Das Eintauchen in eine andere Zeit.

If you’ve listened to books by Jane Smiley before, how does this one compare?

Das war mein erstes Buch von der Autorin.

Which character – as performed by Kate Reading – was your favorite?

Keiner, Kate Reading bringt alle Charactere gleich gut zur Geltung.

Did Private Life inspire you to do anything?

Nein.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful