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The rise and fall of a Belgian princess

Carlota, The Woman Who Ate Roses

Kristien Dieltiens

Charlotte of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold I, is ten years old when she loses her mother and is left with an emotionally unreachable father. She longs for love and thinks she has found it in Maximilian, archduke of Austria. She soon enters into a lonely existence in a loveless and childless marriage. Along with her husband, she travels to Mexico to serve her new country as Empress Carlota. But there a revolution is brewing, and the promised support of Napoleon III and the royal houses of Europe fails to materialize. Maximilian’s overseas adventure ends in front of a firing squad. Carlota never recovers from that trauma. She is pursued by delusions, suffers from paranoia and constantly thinks someone intends to kill her. She ends up back in Belgium, ‘imprisoned’ in a castle, guarded by doctors. From her last place of residence she tells her life story in a long letter to B., her illegitimate son, in an attempt to disentangle the great mysteries of her life.

An exciting whodunnit and a wonderful piece of biofiction

After years of research, Dieltiens manages with consummate skill to enter into the inner life of her character. In language rich in imagery, she shows us a fascinating woman, who flounders and, despite being driven to madness, obstinately tries to keep her head above water. ‘Carlota, The Woman Who Ate Roses’ is an engrossing historical novel that opens up remarkable worlds: that of the royal house and the nobility, that of a powerfully evocative Mexico, and that of the human spirit, which after loneliness and longing flirts with madness. In this fictional biography, Charlotte of Belgium has her honour restored, in sparkling prose.

Dieltiens’ style excels in its wealth of words, its poetic language and its many metaphors.
A nuanced portrait, based on extensive research and meticulously set down in writing ****
Het Nieuwsblad
The more I looked into her tragic life, the more angry I became
Kristien Dieltiens on ‘Carlota, The Woman Who Ate Roses’

When I was getting to know my daughter-in-law, she told me that as a child she had very many questions about Belgium, because at primary school she’d been taught about Mama Carlota, who came from there. I felt embarrassed, because I had no idea who she was talking about. Later I vaguely remembered a family tree from the history books: Charlotte, the youngest child of Leopold I. If you look her up on the internet, you learn little more than that she was fleetingly Empress of Mexico, as the spouse of Maximilian, a younger brother of the Austrian emperor, Frans Jozef, and that she was mad. The more I looked into her tragic life, the more angry I became about the male tunnel vision of many of those who have written about her. I decided to tell her story in a novel, as fiction, but in a way that never deviates from the truth.