Oh boy. As far as Sisi biographies go, I really wouldn't recommend this as a book for starters. There's a few reasons why I have issues with the conteOh boy. As far as Sisi biographies go, I really wouldn't recommend this as a book for starters. There's a few reasons why I have issues with the content of the book, but even on a more general level, this book is not fit as an introduction to the Sisi discourse, for two very important reasons:
- Bestenreiner assumes you already have some knowledge of the subject matter; - And, more importantly, there is no real chronology in the book.
I'll explain this a bit more. Knowledge on the subject matter includes trivia. She doesn't just assume this about Sisi and her life, but about other people (vaguely) connected to her as well. For instance, see page 197 in this edition: "Dessen Nachfolger war im Jahre 1982 der uns bereits aus zahlreichen Presseberichten bekannte Fürst Johannes (...)", which implies that the reader should know one of the recent successors to the House of Thurn und Taxis. In this case, not knowing this bit of trivia doesn't impede understanding. There's more of these little things in the book though, and there they might be confusing for some readers.
But in all honesty, previous knowledge is almost a requirement to make sense of the build-up of the book. Bestenreiner doesn't follow a chronological order, what order she did follow, I don't know. I'll name a few examples:
- The chapter on Elisabeth's sister Mathilde is largely about Elisabeth and her life in Vienna. This takes up so many pages, that she writes that we should come back to the subject matter of Mathilde. This is not the only time this happens - Bestenreiner will be discussing person X, be reminded of something that happens to this person that relates to Elisabeth, write about this interesting tidbit, then come back to what she was writing about in the first place. It's confusing. - Gisela's (Elisabeth's oldest surviving daughter) life is discussed in full without ever mentioning Rudolf (Elisabeth's son, of Mayerling fame). Rudolf is only discussed about 200 pages in, so at about 2/3 of the book. If you think she really gets into the interesting subject matter that is Rudolf, you are mistaken. Half of his chapter is dedicated to Emperor Franz-Joseph's "dear friend" Katharina Schratt. For no clear reason. This happens with a lot of the chapters.
Bestenreiner's way of building up her book is confusing. She does offer a timetable in the back of the book, but I think that a reader should be able to understand a non-fiction book without having to puzzle where each historical fact fits in. This is why I wouldn't recommend the book to someone who's not very familiar with the discourse. The lack of chronology makes the history more difficult to understand than it should be. Another downside of writing the book like this is that some events show up at two different places in the book. This means you sometimes read about the same event twice. In the same words. I don't think that's what you want as a reader.
The book has other 'faults'. Even though I can see Bestenreiner has researched a lot, you don't see a lot of sourcing throughout the book. Some direct quotes are quoted, some are not. About half of what gets quoted is from one of Brigitte Hamann's biographies. I understand, her books are great, but quoting so much from one or two books instead of from other (primary) sources, does not do a lot of good for your credibility. The frustrating thing is that you can see in the text that a lot of different sources must have been used for research, and yet not a lot of this shows up in the bibliography. Had I handed in a paper this way at university, I probably would've gotten some criticism on the credibility of my paper. I feel the same way about the research in this book. Another thing I was surprised about was the lack of any of Martha Schad's research in the bibliography. Schad is also one of the more famous researchers in the Sisi discourse, and worked on Marie Valerie's diary. I mention this because the bibliography didn't even list Marie Valerie's diary as one of the sources, even though it had been quoted from in the book. Sloppy sourcing really doesn't add to your credibility!
I also have a comment about the book's title. For a book that's called "Sisi und ihre Geschwister", or "Sisi and her brothers and sisters", there wasn't an awful lot of information about Sisi's brothers and sisters in there. Most of this is truly about Elisabeth. Bestenreiner ends her book with the hope that this book will introduce Sisi's brothers and sisters to the readers. I would have loved if this were the case. But unfortunately, most of the information on her brothers and sisters in this was already known to me (the earlier mentioned Hamann biographies also discuss Sisi's brothers and sisters). I would have loved if this book really had discussed them in more detail, but was disappointed in this regard.
My last point of criticism was in the way Bestenreiner has written this book. It was subjective, probably to make the book a more engaging read. But yet I am not interested in Bestenreiner's interpretation of facts, or speculations of what might have been or how things could've been prevented. I just don't think it adds anything to the discourse, personally (though there is a lot of it in this particular discourse, so it's not entirely Bestenreiner's fault). I also could've done without the plethora of exclamation marks. Never seen this many in a non-fiction work before.
I don't mean to say I completely hated this book. I didn't... I'm still fond of the subject matter, so of course I didn't hate it. But I was disappointed. Please, skip this as your first Sisi book and buy Brigitte Hamann's biography, "Kaiserin Wider Willen / The Reluctant Empress", instead. It's a much better way to spend your money, you'll get the same information, but it's presented more logically. It's a much better place to start....more