Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

Title: Sacred Hearts
Author: Sarah Dunant
ISBN: 9781400063826
Pages: 432
Release Date: July 14, 2009
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the publisher’s website:

The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, noblewomen find space to pursue their lives under God’s protection. But any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force. And the arrival of Santa Caterina’s new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core.

Ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, sixteen-year-old Serafina is willful, emotional, sharp, and defiant–young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know when that life is being cut short. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girl’s cell to sedate her. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal between the young rebel and the clever, scholarly nun, for whom the girl becomes the daughter she will never have.

As Serafina rails against her incarceration, others are drawn into the drama: the ancient, mysterious Suora Magdalena–with her history of visions and ecstasies–locked in her cell; the ferociously devout novice mistress Suora Umiliana, who comes to see in the postulant a way to extend her influence; and, watching it all, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, a woman as fluent in politics as she is in prayer. As disorder and rebellion mount, it is the abbess’s job to keep the convent stable while, outside its walls, the dictates of the Counter-Reformation begin to purge the Catholic Church and impose on the nunneries a regime of terrible oppression.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant was one of the first historical fiction books I read, and I absolutely loved it. It really got me interested in the genre and it continues to be one of my favorite books, for nostalgic purposes and because it’s well-written and completely captivating. Though I couldn’t get into In the Company of the Courtesan, I was really looking forward to Sacred Hearts and jumped at the chance to review it.

The pace of Sacred Hearts is different than Dunant’s other books; in a word, it is slow. At the beginning, it was difficult to get into. However, after I stuck with it, I began to appreciate the languorous pace of the novel and became completely captivated by it. In some ways, it is claustrophobic, much like being in a convent. The fact that Dunant manages to convey emotion simply through the pace of her novel and her language is a really impressive feat.

The characters are what make Sacred Hearts worth reading. I really loved Suora Zuana; she was definitely my favorite character in the novel. She was level-headed, smart, and easy to get attached to. Sometimes I got tired of Serafina’s hysterical theatrics, but she really grew on me as the novel progressed. I also appreciated the abbess’ shrewdness and ability to understand and deconstruct the political situation of the times that they were living in. Dunant manages to make this book about the people living within the convent, yet through them, and especially Suora Umiliana, she also shows us what was going outside the convent walls and how politics was affecting the lives of the nuns. It is very subtly done and shows a skilled writer at work.

I also loved the depiction of convent life. As I mentioned before, the atmosphere of the book is close and slightly claustrophobic, yet there is a lot of beauty within Sacred Hearts. Suora Zuana actually found a lot of freedom within the walls of the convent. It’s interesting to see how the different women take advantage of life as nuns, especially considering many of them didn’t want to be there in the first place.

As you can tell, I really loved Sacred Hearts. I really thought it was a brilliantly written book. Dunant takes so much care with the details of the time period and her ability to write sympathetic characters that evoke emotion from the reader is impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it!

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book to review.

Comments

  1. I wish I had read something like Sacred Hearts as my first hist fiction instead of the one I read. I guess I have to be more selective in taking book recommendations.

    Thanks for the great review

  2. I wish I had read something like Sacred Hearts as my first hist fiction instead of the one I read. I guess I have to be more selective in taking book recommendations.

    Thanks for the great review

  3. I find it fascinating that you felt as though you were cloistered by her writing; that indicates a gifted writer to me.

    I have this book on my TBR shelf and I am very anxious to begin reading it for myself.

  4. I find it fascinating that you felt as though you were cloistered by her writing; that indicates a gifted writer to me.

    I have this book on my TBR shelf and I am very anxious to begin reading it for myself.

  5. Oh boy! Now I’m really happy I have this one in my TBR. I just need to find some time!

  6. Oh boy! Now I’m really happy I have this one in my TBR. I just need to find some time!

  7. The reviews for this one seem to be all over the place. The slow pace doesn’t seem to work for everyone. I need to keep that in mind when I get to read it.

  8. The reviews for this one seem to be all over the place. The slow pace doesn’t seem to work for everyone. I need to keep that in mind when I get to read it.

  9. I have enjoyed Ms. Dunant’s books so I’m really looking forward to reading this one. We tend to have similar taste in books so I’m sure I’m going to love it!

  10. I have enjoyed Ms. Dunant’s books so I’m really looking forward to reading this one. We tend to have similar taste in books so I’m sure I’m going to love it!

  11. I am sooo glad you enjoyed this one~~ This is easily one of my favorites for the year.
    I was thoroughly surprised that some seemed to abhor it!
    It must be one of those that you have to be in the right frame of mind for. A review is here, I would love for you to stop by.

  12. I am sooo glad you enjoyed this one~~ This is easily one of my favorites for the year.
    I was thoroughly surprised that some seemed to abhor it!
    It must be one of those that you have to be in the right frame of mind for. A review is here, I would love for you to stop by.

  13. This looks good. I haven’t read her since Birth of Venus, but I think I will have to read this at some point and time!

  14. This looks good. I haven’t read her since Birth of Venus, but I think I will have to read this at some point and time!

  15. Fantastic review, you’re right about the writing matching convent life, I didn’t think of that.

  16. Fantastic review, you’re right about the writing matching convent life, I didn’t think of that.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Great review 🙂 I agree, it’s really Suora Zuona who makes the book shine!

    ~Suzi
    Fashionista Piranha

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great review 🙂 I agree, it’s really Suora Zuona who makes the book shine!

    ~Suzi
    Fashionista Piranha

  19. I’ve never read a Sarah Dunant novel before – I might start with this one since you gave it such a postive review.

    I also have an award for you:
    BINGO http://balletbookworm.blogspot.com/2009/08/b-i-n-g-o-award.html

  20. I’ve never read a Sarah Dunant novel before – I might start with this one since you gave it such a postive review.

    I also have an award for you:
    BINGO http://balletbookworm.blogspot.com/2009/08/b-i-n-g-o-award.html

  21. I really, really like your new design. I think it matches what you put out there with your posts and your personality that comes through. good job!

    I am a little worried about the Sacred Hearts and that slow pace you mention. I only hope it won’t be too slow to continue reading.

  22. I really, really like your new design. I think it matches what you put out there with your posts and your personality that comes through. good job!

    I am a little worried about the Sacred Hearts and that slow pace you mention. I only hope it won’t be too slow to continue reading.

  23. Thanks for the wonderful review….. and very impressive blogsite. I added you on my blogroll,hope you don’t mind.

  24. Thanks for the wonderful review….. and very impressive blogsite. I added you on my blogroll,hope you don’t mind.

  25. My review is up today, and is similar in saying very slow start, but then I loved it! I loved Zuana too – I thought she was the real heroine of the book!

  26. My review is up today, and is similar in saying very slow start, but then I loved it! I loved Zuana too – I thought she was the real heroine of the book!

  27. I have read really great reviews of this one. Glad you liked this also. It is in my wish-list 🙂

  28. I have read really great reviews of this one. Glad you liked this also. It is in my wish-list 🙂

  29. I like Sarah Dunant with all her detailed descriptions and surprising plot. Gotta have Sacred Hearts. ^_^

  30. I like Sarah Dunant with all her detailed descriptions and surprising plot. Gotta have Sacred Hearts. ^_^

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