Little Balloonist

The Little Balloonist

by Linda Donn

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn

This sounds like a work of pure fiction — a frail young peasant girl catches the eye of Napoleon and becomes one of the first women balloonists, eventually becoming the official air service chief of France. But the story of the Little Balloonist is a true one. Sophie Blanchard grew up in a poor coastal village, promised in marriage to a much older man, who happened to be an avid balloonist. When he dies, she takes over the family business and becomes a Restoration era rock star.  While those facts are recorded, the author makes the details of Napoleonic era France feel real. As always, I appreciate Donn’s extensive research on the period. There’s a bittersweet love story, but the biggest love of Sophie’s life is clearly the passion she had for escaping the earth.  This is a slight and sweet book, like Sophie herself, about a woman who literally achieved great heights. The Little Ballonist by Linda Donn. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn.

It’s the story  of Sophie Blanchard, the official aeronaut of Napoleonic era France, who left her humble roots behind and became one of the first women balloonists, and certainly the most famous. Linda Donn takes this framework and build the story of Sophie’s life, paying particular attention to her relationship with Napoleon, who rose to prominence at roughly the same time that she did. His big idea was to invade England by hot air balloon until his beloved Sophie actually took him up. So she was instrumental in preventing what would have been a disaster. Napoleon is an interesting and useful character, I’ve read several books that have him pop up, sometimes as a tragic hero, or love interest, in this case as a complete whack job, but always getting to the gates of Moscow and then ending his days in exile.   I wonder who we read about in the paper today that will one day turn up in the fiction of the future?  And how will they be treated? The book is The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Take Five, XM155.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn.

Most books about women who do great and unusual things that are set in a past era end with someone getting burnt at the stake. Not so in this book. The true story of Sophie Blanchard, lucky for her, occurs in Restoration era France. Sophie is a rather frail and very poor girl, until her much older husband dies and leaves her his hot air balloon business. She finds her passion and becomes celebrated at the court of Napoleon, and no one calls her a witch! Sophie was a bundle of neuroses on the ground — tiny and delicate, afraid of loud noises and unable to ride in a carriage. Despite that, she became famous for being absolutely fearless in the air. In fact, she had her balloon set up so she could sleep in the gondola! I had to wonder — how did she know? How did she instinctively know what to do, how to handle the winds aloft, and the extremely dangerous chemical mixtures that powered the balloons? Where does ability like that come from? The Little Balloonist is a worthy and romantic look at the life of an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift. The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn.

If I asked you who was the official air service chief to Napoleon, who helped him plan his campaigns, who invented the idea of setting fireworks off below a hot air balloon, and who demonstrated ballooning for the first time in the new world — flying for George Washington in Philadelphia — I’m guessing you wouldn’t come up with someone like Sophie Blanchard, a delicate peasant girl who left her past behind and conquered the air during Restoration era France. The Little Balloonist is a short and sweet true story, simply told. Sophie is unremarkable on the ground, nervous and frail, but completely at home in the air, taking to it as naturally as a bird.  It’s an interesting and sort of literal take on freedom and duty, and the pull that we can feel in both directions. It’s only when Sophie falls in love that she starts to fear the air, and want to experience life on the ground. Good for her; in her short life she gets to do both. The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn. I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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