John Wilkes Booth, ca. 1865, by Alexander Gardner
In 1864, just a year before he became infamous as the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth enjoyed a very different kind of celebrity. Booth was a national heartthrob, devilishly handsome and acclaimed across the country for his acting.
He came from a line of actors, and a respected (though gossip-plagued) family. The second youngest of six living children, Booth grew up a Union loyalist, eventually turning to support the Confederacy against his family’s wishes. In fact, his involvement in the Southern cause was the first wave in a domino-like string of nightmarish events for Booth and anyone close to him.
In her new novel, Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth (Dutton), Jennifer Chiaverini takes on one of American history’s most notorious villains. Fates and Traitors tells the story of Booth through five interwoven narratives. Four of the voices are those of the women who knew and loved Booth best: his mother, his sister, his confidante, and his secret girlfriend.
Through this unusual narrative structure, and drawing on actual letters and historical records, Chiaverini opens a conversation on who Booth really was, and why he assassinated one of America’s most beloved leaders. She discusses the writing of the novel, and the insights and new perspectives she found in an event taught in every history class in America—and in the man behind it.
Chiaverini is the New York Times-bestselling author of several historical novels, including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Copies of Fates and Traitors are available for purchase and signing.