Title: Sacred Hearts
Author: Sarah Dunant
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Shelf Awareness
First line: Before the screaming starts, the night silence of the convent is already alive with its own particular sounds.
As those of you who read my blog regularly know, it took me forever to finish Sacred Hearts. I requested the ARC because this is normally the kind of book I would absolutely love, but this book took forever to draw me in. In spite of that, though, it is beautifully written, and I ended up enjoying the second half.
Suora Zuana is the dispensary sister at the convent Santa Caterina in Ferrara, Italy. She has lived in the convent for seventeen years, gradually coming to accept her fate. When her father, a famous apothecary died, there was nothing else for her to do but enter the convent. In some ways, she is allowed more freedom than she would have on the outside as a wife. She is given the time and materials to perfect her remedies and cures, and an herbal garden to grow the ingredients.
Her quiet life is changed irrevocably, however, when a young novice enters the convent. Serafina has been entered into the convent against her wishes. The abbess, Madonna Chiara, is determined to assuage her grief and anger so that the young woman can use her beautiful singing voice to bring honor to the convent. Serafina has a stronger will than anyone knows, and begins plotting her escape. She is assigned to Suora Zuana to work in the dispensary, and the young novice’s spirit strikes a chord in Zuana, leading her to question the policy of unquestioning obedience to the abbess.
Ms. Dunant must have done a ton of research, because she intricately describes life inside the walls of a convent. The daily life, the devotion, the religious hysteria, and the grief for passion and motherhood denied are graphically depicted.
Sarah Dunant writes beautifully, and I am looking forward to reading more of her work. In spite of the gorgeous wordcraft, the pace of Sacred Hearts was too sedate, much as life in a convent would be, I suppose. I was tempted to give up on it several times, but my friend Michelle had read it and enjoyed it, so I kept plugging away. I’m glad I did, because I liked the second half, and especially the ending.