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Extended Audio Sample Private Life, by Jane Smiley Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,600 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jane Smiley Narrator: Kate Reading Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman's life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at 27 in post-Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He's the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer, a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret's mother calls the match a piece of luck.

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew's obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life is a beautiful evocation of a woman's inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Richly detailed…I read parts of Smiley’s novel to my mother and, afterward, we found ourselves wondering about our dead female relatives…They lived, they sorrowed; maybe now we understand them a little better than before.”

    Globe and Mail (Toronto)

  • “A fine portrait…[Private Life] should only enhance Smiley’s reputation as one of the most innovative and accomplished writers currently at work.”

    Times Literary Supplement (London)

  • “Brilliant…Private Life is a powerful, challenging, and, ultimately, fierce work of fiction, a masterpiece of a novel that stands with the best of Smiley’s work.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “Powerful…Smiley is a wonderful writer…[She] creates a convincing, nuanced portrait of a woman’s life when women had few options.”

    San Diego Union-Tribune

  • “A book whose enormous power sneaks up on you…Unlike so many contemporary novels, which start out sure-footed but eventually lose focus, this novel keeps getting better.”

    Newark Star Ledger

  • “Brilliant…A story of immense originality and insight…It is served well by the fascinating era in which it is set, and most of all by Smiley’s wit and erudition.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “Smiley tells her story precisely…Private Life has a stunning specificity of detail…Husband and wife are three-dimensional, alive and memorable in the way characters in fiction and people in biographies so rarely are.”

    Miami Herald

  • Private Life, perhaps Jane Smiley’s best novel since her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, is so firmly anchored in its historical setting that the past comes to seem like the reader’s present.”


  • “Smiley’s eye is keen, and the book’s historical pageant is often mesmerizing and often elegantly composed…A quiet tragedy.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Remarkable…With its quietly accruing power, [Private Life is] the kind of book that puts the lie to those who claim that great novelists produce their best work early and spend the rest of their lives gilding the lily.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “Smiley’s best novel yet…[A] heartbreaking, bitter, and gorgeous story.”

    Atlantic Monthly

  • “Extraordinarily powerful…It’s not often that a work as exceptional as this comes along in contemporary American letters.”

    Washington Post

  • “Masterly…[A] precise, compelling depiction of a singular woman.”

    New Yorker

  • A 2010 Washington Post Best Book for Fiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Tara | 2/14/2014

    " I love Jane Smiley, but this wasn't written in her usual style (from many perspectives surrounding a central theme). Smiley is a beautiful writer, but I think in this case, it was a little too subtle for me, especially at the end. I didn't get it. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Rene Singley | 2/7/2014

    " Unlike her previous books, the characters and story line did not keep my interest. It seemed disjointed. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Jenn | 2/2/2014

    " I loved this book. It is about an 'ordinary' woman who lived through the first and second world wars. The characters are so beautifully drawn and real. It's hard to understand why the book is so fascinating, but it is. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Amy Broom | 1/29/2014

    " Amazing book that held my attention. The characters are well thought out and have depth. Very much enjoyed this one. "

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