The Dictator's Wife

The darkly gripping BBC2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick

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Pub Date 17 Feb 2022 | Archive Date Not set
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'I am not my husband. I am innocent. Do you believe me?'

The beautiful, enigmatic wife of a feared dictator stands trial for her late husband's crimes against the people. The world will finally know the truth. But whose? A BBC2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick.

'A gripping, intelligent, utterly-of-the-moment thriller' EMMA STONEX, bestselling author of The Lamplighters

'A remarkable new talent' ANTHONY HOROWITZ, bestselling author of A Line to Kill

'Compelling, atmospheric... It's BRILLIANT' MARIAN KEYES, bestselling author of Again, Rachel

'A gripping and moving debut' HARLAN COBEN, bestselling author of Stay Close

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.

'Richly imagined. Marija is a magnificently awful creation' THE TIMES
'You won't find many better literary debuts than this' NEW EUROPEAN
'Demands to be devoured in one sitting. Sumptuously written... One of the most compelling literary debuts of the year' GLAMOUR
'Spellbinding' JANE SHEMLIT
'Darkly compelling' STYLIST
'This book is magnificent' CHARLOTTE PHILBY
'One of the most original debuts I have read' DAISY GOODWIN
'A darkly atmospheric, rich, compulsive and page-turning read' KATE HAMER
'An unconventional legal thriller and absorbing debut that is as satisfyingly complex in both its plotting and moral conclusions' EXPRESS
'A captivating story of women's power, love and secrets. As timely and profound as it is unforgettable. The ending left me breathless' LARA PRESCOTT
'A fascinating exploration of absolute power, female agency and the complexities of complicity. Atmospheric, claustrophobic and so elegantly written' ELLERY LLOYD
'Excellent. Horrifying and immersive with strong characterisation and atmosphere' HARRIET TYCE
'Engrossing, evocative, chillingly claustrophobic. Wonderfully written' KAREN HAMILTON
'Richly and imaginatively crafted' IRISH INDEPENDENT
'A thrilling novel' OLIVIA VINALL
'A masterful portrait of a self-made woman who is both devil and angel. Like the real-life dictator's wives that inspired her, she's unforgettable' ANIKA SCOTT

'I am not my husband. I am innocent. Do you believe me?'

The beautiful, enigmatic wife of a feared dictator stands trial for her late husband's crimes against the people. The world will finally know...

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ISBN 9781472276308
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

When I read the synopsis for this I got Eva Peron vibes from it and I was totally in. I found this book gripping I couldnt put it down and when it ended I was both devastated that it had finished and immediately wanting to reread it. The writing was great, it was beautifully done, the characters were well developed and relatable- some more than others,
I have always had questions about the wives and children of world leaders and figures throughout history that have held distatorships but none more prominent in my mmind than how much did their wives really know and/or agree with their policies and reigns of terror and for that reason this book was so thought provoking and intrinsincly fascinating. There were moments that were truly heartwrenching and yet there were also moments of love.
At times the book was claustrophobic and gave the reader a truly dark restricted atmosphere that really added an extra layer of slightly experiencing the opression and horror of a dictator regime. It was both completely terrifying and captivating in equal measure.
I honestly couldnt put this book down and I think it would be a contender for best book I have read this year. I loved it

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Inventive, fascinating, and gripping - I stayed up late to read this and Berry did such a great job with the worldbuilding of Yanussia. It all felt so real and I can't wait to see what Berry writes next - I can only compare her to one of my favourite authors, Ottessa Moshfegh.

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A gripping story with the most amazing concept, when the title character stands trial for her husband's crimes, will the truth finally out?
This book got under my skin from start to finish, the characters were so real and believable, and I wasn't surprised to learn that the author got her inspiration for this novel while working as a reporter on the 2016 US presidential election.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for letting me read an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback.

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"'Everybody has a choice.' He laughed. 'Spoken like somebody who's never truly had to make one. Two options are not the same as a choice.'"

The Dictator's Wife is an astounding piece of literature. The author's debut is a historical fiction focused on the small country of Yanussia going through a regime change and seeking to hold the previous leaders to account. I find it fascinating that the author found inspiration from Melania Trump.

"Strange how glamour enchants us, how it makes us forget. A fur coat insists on us ignoring the abattoir".

The book combined real world law terminology (and British law firms) to deliver an accurate and thought-provoking look into who society deems monsters and who we give free passes to. How we define history and how we allow it to shape our present and our future. How money and status enables access to creating an illusion of innocence. Are any of us innocent? How do we truly define innocence?

The plot twists were strong and the entire read felt like whirlwind. I can't lie, I did read in one sitting because I couldn't bare to put the book down. The emotional trauma of the protagonist, the manipulation of the accused and the deep-rooted betrayal could easily be taken out of the book and applied to so many external, real-world scenarios. I love a good historical fiction. I definitely recommend.

Thank you to NetGalley for the Arc.

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“What do we have in the present if the past means nothing?”


Thank you @HeadlineBooks for my early copy of #TheDictatorsWife by @freyabbooks via @NetGalley.


I am not the person they say I am.

I am not my husband.

I am innocent.

Do you believe me?

I know the phrase “will have you reading long into the night” gets thrown about an awful lot, but it is completely true for this book.

The Dictator’s Wife, Marija Popa, faces the death penalty for the crimes of her husband, who can’t stand trial himself, as he was brutally murdered. Set in the fictional country Yanussia, Marija hires defence lawyers from London to help her fight her case. In comes Laura - who is a Yanussia born lawyer along with her boss to try and save Marija from the noose.

However, Laura’s parents who fled the countries dictatorship when she was a child are adamant that she refuses the case, and this is where the story really takes off. Laura’s parents won’t tell her why they fled nor will they explain why she shouldn’t defend Marija Popa - which means Laura must accept the case and go to Yanussia to find the truth for herself.

All is not what it seems, danger lurks everywhere, webs of lies and deceit unfold, information leaks, murder happens in the most unlikely places, a puppeteer holds all the strings but to what end and just how guilty is the wife of a Dictator?

Although this book kept me absolutely hooked, I do find my understanding of the wider political elements of this book lacking, purely to my own ignorance of history which causes the book to be a “difficult” read, I’m not a History or Politics nerd so I did struggle with some parts of the book, but on a whole I enjoyed this book.

It’s definitely a book that requires concentration, but the characters and atmosphere of the book is tremendously written which makes it addictive reading.

The Dictator’s Wife is released on the 17 February and FYI: Waterstones & Goldsboro Books both have exclusive editions!



The beautiful, enigmatic wife of a feared dictator stands trial for her late husband's crimes against the people. The world will finally know the truth. But whose?


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?

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I don’t know where to start with this book, it took my breath away and I feel bereft that it has finished.

The book follows Laura, a young lawyer, who is part of a team who go to the country of her exiled parents, to defend the wife of the dead former leader, accused of being complicit in his crimes. As her parents escaped the country, and do not want their daughter to go to defend Marija Popa, this leads to a fracture in their already fragile relationship, damaged by a lifetime of secrets.

The writing is beautiful, there is a grace and elegance to the prose that is stunning, and this alone made the book an absolute a joy to read. However, there is much, much more to this book than just incredible prose, the plot is compelling.

The book considers the nature of truth, the power of popularism and the devastating impact of a dictatorship on a nation’s people, which sadly seems all too relevant in today’s post-truth world. The plot is compelling, a genuine page turner, which left it virtually impossible for me to put the book down.

The characterisation is sublime, the depiction of Marija Popa in particular was fabulous. I found I couldn’t help falling in love with her in the same way as all of those around her, even though there was always the threat of her being an absolute monster. I couldn’t decide until the explosive final chapters whether she was guilty or innocent of the charges she faced, but I didn’t’ t really care, and I could completely understand why everyone wanted her attention.

The sense of place is fabulous, and the juxtaposition of the bleak streets of Yanussia where people are starving and freezing, with the opulence of the home of Marija Popa highlighted the stark difference between those in power and their people.

This is very different from most books around at the moment, which makes it a refreshing read. I would thoroughly recommend this book, it will make you really think about the structures of power and how it can, and is, abused.

Thank you to The author, Headline Publishing Group and Netgalley for an ARC in return for a honest review.

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‘I had not prepared for the chance that I might like her.’

Evoking memories of Imelda Marcos and Elena Ceaușescu, here the Dictators wife of the title is Marija Popa. Set in fictional Yanussia, Laura returns to the land of her family as part of the defence team for the woman, wife and mother of a nation who was married to a toppled dictator and is now on trial for her life and his crimes.
She says she is not the person they say, she is not her husband, she is innocent but do we, the reader believe her and can Laura find out the truth?

‘How can it be that what terrifies us may also entrance us, despite, because of, our fear?’

Wow! I know this is fiction but this felt really real! The scenes at the press conference with rabid crowds surging, the violence, you could feel the rage. We’ve seen scenes this on the TV but I felt like I was in these places whilst reading, a really believable world has been created and I found myself half holding my breath at times, on tenterhooks to see what would happen next!

‘Strange how glamour enchants us, how it makes us forget. A fur coat insists on us ignoring the abattoir.’

I felt in thrall to Marija reading this, she is addictive. It’s an intoxicating read and deliciously good. Berry keeps you just off kilter enough to make you feel like you are the one being watched, it is outstanding!

‘The name conjured a glimmering swarm of contradictions. A sumptuous banquet crawling with maggots.’

I think because I knew that this has happened in some form in the real world made it all the more compelling. Laura is enticed into the spiders web of Marija; the little mother, groomed since childhood to believe in her power. I could feel the pressure that Laura felt, the risks she takes, giving me a dry mouth, my heart thumping as I read, it was so well done.

I found myself reading faster and faster to get to the end, to find out Laura and Marija’s fates, what happens? You will have to see, innocent or not, you won’t be able to look away! You will be held spellbound by The Dictators Wife.


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The Dictator’s Wife is a thoroughly enjoyable read, ensnaring the reader within a page. It perfectly blends the personal and the political when a former citizen of an (imaginary) ex-Eastern bloc dictatorship (think Ceausescu and/or Tito) returns to the country of her birth to defend the former ‘Mother’ of the nation (think Evita).

I loathe spoilers so I won’t say anything more about the story itself, other than it certainly had me turning pages.

What I can tell is that there are many other things to admire about this novel. The most obvious is the meticulous attention to detail that went into creating the imagined country itself. Although there is a wealth of historical detail and decor, never does it feel too much. While reading, I just assumed the author must be old enough to have remembered all of these old regimes, perhaps having visited them as a reporter or academic. But at the end of the novel, Ms Barry talks about how she did her research – spending a few months travelling through these post-revolution landscapes and hearing people’s stories. It’s an approach that has definitely paid off. Her research feels so light touch while also rendering her backdrop as a vibrant, living, breathing thing.

Personally, I’d have like to know more about how she approached creating her characters as well – endowing even relatively minor characters with complex/complicating private hinterlands.

As the novel’s cover suggests, this is a boldly visual novel. I won’t be surprised to see it turned into a film or Netflix series. I, for one, can easily imagine Cate Blanchett as the Dictator’s Wife.

Many thanks again to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me see an advance copy of this novel.

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A dramatic and compulsive read, telling the story of a wife standing trials for her husband’s sins, showing just how difficult the truth can be.

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Thank you to Netgalley, Headline and Freya Berry for this ARC. I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling read. Although the subject matter is at times dark, the story itself was an engaging and compelling read. It's a book that I'll definitely recommend.

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