Joshua Norton is bankrupt and desperate in antebellum San Francisco. The whole nation seems to have gone mad. He discovers that madness is a viable option, and so becomes Joshua Norton I, dei gratia Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Many people of the city happily accept him as such. Yet he discovers that even with the power of monarchy he cannot cure the unhappiness of the country or of himself. How can he help Marina, who wishes only to sing, or Sophia, who desires only wealth? Worse, how can he help himself–and what to do with his secret treasure? Based on true stories of Old San Francisco.
Outstanding , Moving Read by a Master Storyteller
Review on Amazon by Richard Sutton
Steve Bartholomew is first, and foremost a storyteller. The Imaginary Emperor is the second of his books I’ve had the rare pleasure to read, and once again, as I turned the last page I was very disappointed to have the tale come to an end. He is also a discerning researcher and this book shows his skills in that area very well indeed. Throughout the pacing is excellent, the voice perfect for the period while still remaining immediate and accessible.
This is the story of Civil-War era San Francisco. The Gold Rush has come and gone, leaving quite a few fortunes lost along the way. One of these less-fortunates, who thought he had the world by the tail, is Joshua Norton. Mr. Norton may… or may not have gone off the “deep end”, losing everything he had built up over the years since the rush faded and the city began to grow. Now apparently penniless, in a moment of either brilliance or desperation – you’ll be the judge – he names himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Sporting an old worn military long dress coat and a feather stuck in his ancient beaver cap, he strolls the streets making proclamations and insinuating himself, ever so thoroughly, into the lives of a wide range of characters. He is an object of scorn and laughter, but also growing respect among his friends.
The Nation is beset by war and its aftermath, including homelessness, lack of jobs, bank failures, civic corruption, the predations of corporate greed and a government that seems unable to deal with any of it. Whether it is wisdom, fancy or delusion, Emperor Norton finds ways to help each of those who need his help and confound those who think they can get the better of him. In the end, he becomes a figure that no history of the rise of San Francisco could be complete without. He will reside in every reader’s memory, making his proclamations and inspecting the boardwalks to their delight.
The author has truly done it again, and created a cast of memorable, honest characters set in a rich, evocative setting. His story winds through the narrow alleys, up the steep hills, and into some of the most amazing parlors of the day, and when the tale is ended, you’ll have a much better understanding of the place and those times. You’ll also see them reflected, not too differently, in the times we’re living now. I can’t wait for his next book.
About the Author
The author was born a long time ago. He spent three years in the US Army where he learned a lot of vital skills, such as how to use a soldering iron and screwdriver, as well as how to make the bed, mop the floor, and wash dishes. He grew up and spent most of his life in San Francisco. After obtaining a useless liberal arts degree, he became a social worker and did more than 20 years in the mean streets of New York City, San Francisco, and rural California. He is now devoted to writing books, which he should have been doing in the first place. He has written some science fiction and fantasy, but is now mainly interested in tales of the Old West. In this case, The Old West means mainly California, Nevada, and especially Old San Francisco.