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Grandmère: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt    by David B. Roosevelt & Manuela Dunn-Mascetti order for
by David B. Roosevelt
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Grandmère is the biography of an extraordinary American woman, an individualist who believed 'in the innate goodness of humanity.' It is written by her grandson David. While naturally partisan, it is charmingly so, as he portrays her life as 'a dramatic statement of self-transformation.' Its crowning achievment was the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, developed when Eleanor was chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission. Adlai Stevenson said of her 'She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.'

But the emphasis in this book is on her family life and in particular the pleasure that she took in her retreats at Val-Kill and Campobello. Eleanor had an unhappy childhood. Then her mother died at the age of 29, and soon afterwards, when she was 10, she also lost a beloved father, whose 'heart always dominated'. At 18, she was a debutante, niece of US President Theodore Roosevelt, and also directly involved in philanthropic activities. She married Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was soon busy with a young family, and then with public life as FDR's political career developed.

The author portrays his grandmother's discovery of FDR's affair with her social secretary with great sympathy, but also as a liberating event, one that led to a loss of intimacy but also laid the grounds for a strong personal and political partnership. According to her grandson, it freed Eleanor to become her own woman. She soon discovered kindred spirits in other activists, and eventually found the role of First Lady to be a restrictive one. After her husband died, Eleanor lived by her own maxim, 'You must do the thing you think you cannot do', moving on to do great things at the UN.

The author calls Eleanor 'America's conscience' and quotes her as attributing many world problems to people forgetting to 'Love thy neighbor' ... 'When we center on our own home, our own family, our own business, we are neglecting this fundamental obligation of every human being and until it is acknowledged and fulfilled we cannot have world peace.' I wonder what she would say today?

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