Book Review: Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by Barbara Leaming

Before going on a trip to NY to visit family for the holidays, I made a stop at the library to pick up something to read on the plane or during down time. With nothing in mind, I meandered over to the biography section, as I haven’t read that genre in a long time. I have to admit that this caught my eye because I had just seen a preview for the movie, Jackie, and thought I would get more out of it if I read about her first.

And so now I have read her biography and just saw the movie this weekend, and I’m glad I read this. I can’t say I knew much about her life or person prior to reading. The movie focuses on the trauma and grief she experienced in the wake of her husband’s assassination, while the book covers more of her life and gives a bigger picture. The movie does a great job conveying the mood and helping the viewer feel and empathize with Jackie. Natalie Portman, who plays Jackie, is absolutely amazing in it. She carries the entire film and becomes Jackie: her speech, mannerisms and the way she carries herself is all Jackie. I must say, she was incredible.

In reading the book, I learned a lot, and got a good historical refresher in doing so. In the beginning portion, I was pleasantly surprised to find out she was quite an interesting person, highly intelligent and an independent thinker. It was also good insight into what women’s lives were like in that era.

Post-assassination, the narrative takes a dark turn, recording her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which at the time was not yet recognized by professionals as a mental health diagnosis. This lack of understanding at the time led to a rather uncompassionate response from the public and the press, who were hoping she would put her grief behind her so that the nation could forget and move on. Much of the middle third of the book described her struggle and the relentless stream of challenges which traumatize her anew and create set-backs in her recovery.

At last, she does manage to build a new life for herself. She builds a satisfying career as an editor and writer, she forges a life with Maurice Tempelsman who is steady and devoted for many years, until her death. She overcomes powerlessness over her trauma, creating predictability where she can and accepts what she cannot control.

It is the story of an amazing woman and the journey of healing after trauma.

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