Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant explores the lives of a convent of nuns in sixteenth century Italy. Behind the gates and walls that sequester these nuns from the outside world, these Benedictine nuns struggle with issues of depression, anorexia, control issues, and growing old. Most of the nuns there are put there in lieu of marriage because dowries have risen to the point that most noble families can only marry off one of their daughters. The other daughters are put into convents with smaller, yet still significant dowries as a bride of Christ.

Sarah Dunant did a great job of creating likely characters that dealt with real world problems. I got the impression that very few of the nuns entered the convent of their own will, and had to struggle with their initial adjustment.

The main characters are Abbess Chiara, who heads the convent and has lived there since she was six years old. She comes from a powerful family and thus was born for convent life and the influence that her family could have within the community of Ferrara because she is the Abbess. Suora Umiliana, the novice mistress, in charge of the newer convent members. She thrives on prayer, fasting, faith, and even self-destruction. Suara Zuana runs the dispensary and cares for the ill while tending her herb garden and creating formulas for her apothecary. Finally, the newest member of the convent Sarafina sets the convent into turmoil with her beautiful voice, agonizing cries, her plot to escape, and her deception.

The first third of the book felt a little forced, the next third of the book was very good but left me feeling claustrophobic because as of yet, the story was still retained within the walls of the Santa Caterina convent. The last one hundred pages of the book made the experience worthwhile, although I had to read all the way to the end to feel any sense of satisfaction.

Sarah Dunant keeps readers guessing up to the very end as to how things will turn out. Those interested in this historical period, convent life, or who just like a good historical fiction read will enjoy this novel.


Anonymous said...

I have this but haven't read it yet. Glad you enjoyed it for the most part :)

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