I am haunted. Haunted by someone who died over 100 years ago. Haunted by someone who was misunderstood but revered after her death. I am haunted by Sisi, one of the most beautiful women of her time. The longest-reigning empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
For my fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided randomly one night to choose two cities and visit them less than a week later. I suggested Prague and Vienna not knowing much about the cities. I won’t go into much detail now about my Prague trip, but when we left Prague and arrived at night in the Vienna train station, I initially wanted to hop back on the train and go back from whence we came. I wasn’t prepared for the grand imperial city–I was expecting something older–not something partially reconstructed after the world wars.
I’m so glad I stayed for I fell irrevocably in love the next day. I fell in love with the city that Sisi hated. I toured the Hofburg Palace–luxurious but with rooms smaller in scale than you would expect for a large palace. I saw Sisi’s bathroom where she spent hours and hours at her toilette, taking care of her floor-length hair. I saw her workout equipment that she used to maintain her 18-inch waist. I saw Emperor Franz Joseph’s small desk from which he controlled an empire. I saw the Sisi Museum–filled with artifacts from a woman who was hated in the Viennese press during her lifetime, but upon her assassination, was exalted to almost god-like status.
My eyes took in richness beyond belief from a world that will never return again.
Almost four years later, I was vaulted back into this world that I did not want to leave in 2013.
Sisi: An Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki did that to me. For a short while, this Memorial Day weekend, I became a member of Sisi’s inner court. I almost became Sisi. I felt her emotions, her melancholy, her quest for happiness in a world that she felt “sold” into when she became an empress at the age of 16. An infatuated young woman too naive to know the constraints and criticisms that would barrage her for the rest of her life. A young woman unprepared for her husband to cheat on her, unprepared for her mother-in-law to steal her elder children; a young woman who could control nothing but her physical appearance which she spent most of her waking hours religiously (if not unhealthily) preserving.
Allison Pataki created a masterpiece–one I am in awe of and can’t quite let go of. Pataki’s superb research brought Sisi to life. I walked to the Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace with Sisi. I stood at Neptune’s fountain with Sisi. I felt the weight of her corseted gowns fall over my body as I felt suffocated by yet another court event. Allison breathed life and emotions into real words that the empress and emperor actually uttered to one another. Fiction and fact were intertwined so richly that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.
My friends, if you are ready for a book that will not leave you–pick up Allison Pataki’s Sisi. This New York Times bestseller is on special right now for Kindle, but honestly, you’ll love this book so much you’ll want to get it and it’s prequel (The Accidental Empress) in hardcover. The covers are gorgeous and must grace my bookshelves. I don’t generally re-read books, but this one–I will. On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this 10 stars. My highest praise ever.
You won’t be disappointed. Join me in being haunted by Sisi: An Empress on Her Own as you enter her world, which I share a glimpse of below.