Book Review: The Dictator’s Wife by Freya Berry

About the Book:

A dictator’s wife, overthrown and awaiting trial, pleads her case to a young female lawyer, while also drawing her into a tangled web of lies and dark, dangerous secrets. This dazzling and devastating debut is a Lead Launch for Headline Review for Spring 2021.


I learned early in life how to survive. A skill that became vital in my position.


I was given no power, yet I was expected to hold my own with the most powerful man in the country.


My people were my children. I stood between him and them.

I am not the person they say I am.

I am not my husband.

I am innocent.

Do you believe me?

Visceral and thought provoking, haunting and heartbreaking, The Dictator’s Wife will hold you in its grip until its powerful conclusion and keep you turning the pages long into the night.

Published by Hachette Australia – Headline Review

Released 22nd February 2022

My Thoughts:

That this is a debut novel is astounding. This is probably going to be one of those reviews that doesn’t quite do the novel justice because of my ardent love for it combined with my complete lack of objectivity. I did anticipate liking this novel, the place and time in which it is staged is one that holds a lot of appeal to me, but what I didn’t expect was the compulsive addiction I formed to reading it. So much so, I slowed right down and lingered, rereading passages, and taking my time in a way that is not usual for me.

‘She isn’t a person, she’s a puppeteer. She discovers what you are, what you can and cannot bear, and uses it.’

The author has created an imaginative Eastern European country, and has set the novel in the early 1990s, under the shadow of the fall of communism and the raising of the Iron Curtain. The fictious country of Yanussia was formerly a part of the USSR and now that the doors have been flung open, its populace are gunning for justice against the corruption of the past…or are they?

‘We choose who we allow to hurt us, in the end. The important thing is to let the right ones in.’

The legal defence team for the former First Lady, who is on trial for a myriad of corruption charges and faces the death penalty if found guilty, includes two Yanussian expats, both of whom have been selected for the case based upon their nationality – by the former First Lady. This is a complex story of displacement, both at the national and the personal level. It’s fraught with fear, of the sort that is unknown to those of us who have not lived under a communist rule. The author has recreated this sense of dark urgency, it descends over you while reading like a suffocation as you feel the terror of living with the secrets of the past, secrets that are still too dangerous to reveal.

This is a brilliant novel, in my opinion, and anyone who has an interest in reading novels about the Cold War, post Cold War, and life in Eastern Europe when it was part of the USSR, should seek this one out. The author may have used a fictious country as her setting, but the experiences and circumstances have been based on actual former Eastern Bloc countries and the people who lived there. Outstanding.


Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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