Seven conscripts from a village near Dijon set out to follow Napoleon on his campaign to conquer Egypt. Children of the Enlightenment, they are filled with wonder by all they see, and by the Great Man who is their leader. Their lives are fraught with danger, and three die. One of the band, who looks like Napoleon, is commanded to serve as his double, a decoy for assassins. Yet the conscripts like nothing better than to talk, to think, to dream – their true vocation is to live in their imaginations. The Sphinx and the desert sands, the seraglios of Cairo and the waters of the Nile hold them in thrall.
A year later the survivors sail with Nicholas Baudin on his expedition to New Holland. Again they are threatened, by disease and starvation, and again their sense of wonder allows them to transcend misfortune. But only one of the dreamers will survive, to tell the story of the seven from a slab hut in Rose-Hill, a short distance from the fledgling settlement of Sydney-Town.
Part contemporary novel, enlisting history and philosophy for its own baroque ends, and part fable, in the style of Borges and Calvino, Napoleon’s Double is a tribute to the power of story-telling and belief.
The cool Enlightenment tone makes for an elegant narrative, enriched by a modern yet natural self-consciousness. Rather than a historical novel, Napoleon’s Double is a work of ideas. Antoni Jach invites us to become citizens of the world and citizens of history – alive equally to the past and the present.’ JOHN ARMSTRONG