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Sacred Hearts

3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,519 Ratings  ·  1,195 Reviews
BONUS: This edition contains a Sacred Heartsdiscussion guide.

The year is 1570, and a new novice has just been forced into the Italian convent of Santa Caterina. Ripped by her family from the man she loves, sixteen-year-old Serafina is sharp and defiant. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, i
Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published (first published December 7th 2008)
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Karla Theriac Are you a man? The book is about women and the restraints that are placed on them first by men then by each other. It's a wonderful book about in…moreAre you a man? The book is about women and the restraints that are placed on them first by men then by each other. It's a wonderful book about in small ways removing those cloisters. (less)

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Jun 26, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today a woman can be single and have a career and a joyful life. During the Victorian era many a maiden aunt was taken in as helper in the homes of better off relatives. But in the 16th century, we find that many aristocratic Italian families, only being able to afford one dowry, would force one girl into marriage and dispatch the other young women to convents.

At first I found Sarah Dunant’s "Sacred Hearts" claustrophobic (it all takes place behind convent walls) and uninviting. I so enjoyed "I
Jan 25, 2016 Fortunr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has been quite a pleasant surprise. The setting of this nice historical novel is a convent in the elegant and pleasant city of Ferrara, during the Italian Renaissance not long after the Council of Trent.

Ferrara is unfairly neglected as a tourist destination in many tourist routes, which is quite baffling as the city is very charming, a real place that has proudly retained a genuine sense of its medieval and renaissance past. I visited the city in my latest trip to Europe, and it was a
Jul 14, 2009 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected a book about sixteenth century convent life and its nuns to be boring. What I did not expect was Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant her third (and probably her best) novel set in the Italian Renaissance (following In the Company of a Courtesan and The Birth of Venus). I was instantly captivated by the sisters of Santa Caterina, a fictional convent comprised of a group of highly sophisticated women as embroiled in politics, scandal, and deception as their courtly counterparts. Dunant achiev ...more
Aug 17, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cannonball-read
Any reader of my reviews knows that I’m a sucker for historical fiction. If it sucks, I will finish it anyway, bitching all the way. If it’s good, I thank the fiction gods above. Sometimes it’s hard to find that good novel that makes an honest attempt at historical facts and attitudes while also maintaining an engaging writing style. Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts has it nailed.

I’ve read several of Dunant’s novels before, all set in Renaissance Italy. She has a fascination with women, art, and the
Kate Quinn
Jan 11, 2010 Kate Quinn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Novels about nuns are difficult to get right. Many are too evangelical; others simply seize the trappings of veils and prayers as a dramatic setting for a forbidden love story. Sarah Dunant's "Sacred Hearts" gets it right: a passionate but balanced story of a nunnery in Renaissance Italy poised on the brink of change. The convent is presented as an insular but surprisingly sophisticated little sphere, worldly enough to accept an Abbess with political connections and sisters who took their vows m ...more
"We ve come a long way, baby. It may be clichd, but Sacred Hearts shows the reader the strides women have made in the world. I remain utterly horrified at the fact that so many women were forced into the convents. When your options are to marry the man your father tells you to marry, submit to his whims and caprices, abuse and philandering, I imagine the convent was the best choice for some. Still, that doesn t make it fundamentally right. Everyone deserves the chance to choose their life.[retur ...more
Apr 14, 2016 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A closed society of its own--a 16th century Italian convent of Benedictines set in the tumultuous times of Counter Reformation. Women didn't have much option in those days--marriage to someone of the father's choosing, as a "maiden aunt" in the bosom of the extended family or life immured in a convent. We meet Serafina, a novice who entered unwillingly; she said the vows of novitiate with her mouth, "not her heart." We see the infirmarian, Zuana, who takes the young girl under her wing as the da ...more
Laura C.
Dec 30, 2010 Laura C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We women, you know, are pretty strong. This novel shows us again, the truth of our lives by telling us a story. A story of making the best of it, of finding grace, even within unchosen boundaries. Did you know that half of all noble women in 16th century Italy were forced into nunneries because their families could afford only one lavish dowery? In her author's notes, Sarah Dunant quotes one such woman, a nun form Santi Naborre e Felice convent in Bolgna , written to the pope: "Many of us are sh ...more
Doug Bradshaw
Sep 18, 2009 Doug Bradshaw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rather than re-tell the story, here are my observations about this excellent but hard book:

1. From the very first page, a very bleak and lugubrious picture of the life of a Nun in the convents of 1500's Italy is painted. The picture is probably accurate, but it is a torturous read, like reading about the world of slavery in early America.

2. Sarah's writing is excellent and a joy to read. The lives of the four main characters are perfectly drawn and the interplay between them is a great work of
May 09, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Sacred Hearts" is Sarah Dunant's best novel yet, and one of the very best I've read in a long time. Through her exquisite writing Dunant brings to life, vividly and intimately, the realities of convent life in 16th-century Italy. The struggle between piety and politics, spirituality and sensuality, as well as faith and science is powerfully depicted in this engaging story. We come to know well the women whose everyday lives we are made privy to and see, and feel, the turmoil beneath the apparen ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the third of the Italian Renaissance novels (there's no connection between them) and having read and enjoyed the other two I pounced upon this when I found it in a charity shop.

16 year old Serefina has been forced by her father to enter the convent of Santa Caterina. She rages against her confinement, and at first refuses to use her remarkable singing voice. As time goes on however Serefina becomes a pawn in the bitter power play of convent politics. Zuana the sister in charge of the in
Gina de Jong
Apr 01, 2016 Gina de Jong rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016a
Birth of Venus is the only other book I have read by this author, and it's hard for me to not make the comparison! I loved birth of Venus, was totally captured by the story and the characters. But this one fell flat for me. I was drawn to the main character and the banter of the nuns -it was very call the midwife! But the overall story just did not have the mystery and the pull that I enjoy.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I'll admit I was spoiled for this novel by having read and re-read In This House of Brede for the past, oh 40 years it must be now. If you want an in-depth look at a Benedictine monastery, warts and all, you can't do better than Godden's masterpiece. It too is set at a time of change and upheaval--the Vatican II conferences of the 1960s; and I can't get away from the thought that Dunant, also British, was in a way trying to emulate this earlier work in her novel.

However, Sacred Hearts is set in
J.S. Dunn
For some reason, not as engrossing as some of her other titles in Renaissance Italy. The religiosity seems overthetop and not entirely sincere.

Part of the middling rating also comes from gross lapses in research. First , there is a reference to the abbess having a mahogany armchair. That is very premature for use of mahogany in furniture, and in a small Italian city. Also convent furnishings would not lend themselves to use of mahogany....The error would have repeated itself in a page or two but
Sep 20, 2009 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacred Hearts is a story set in the late 1500's in an Italian convent. A few historical notes are necessary in order to fully understand the story. First, at this time in order for a noblewoman to be married as befit someone of her class, a large dowry was necessary--so large that many families couldn't afford to marry off more than one daughter. Since women needed to be taken care of, the solution was to put them in convents. According to the author, as many as 50% of the noblewomen of that tim ...more
Aug 26, 2009 Lory rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I won this book in the give-away--my first. I had high hopes. I've tried picking it up again and again and have read several books in between each time I picked it up. So far, I've made it to page 95. It's very slow and tedious, if you're looking for a page-turner, you won't find it here. Since I am not a Roman Catholic, I had also hoped to gain some insights, maybe they're in there somewhere but so far, this book is just plain boring.
Kieran Walsh
I have to stand back and think about this one. I'm not spiritual enough to appreciate the life of monastic seclusion so had to peel back the religious references to get to the core of the story. Definitely some interesting finds. Historical fiction isn't for everybody but the fun in reading a book like this is that one is obliged (at least)to understand the context. While Sarah Dunant certainly doesn't leave the reader guessing on this score.....bottom line: Sixteenth century was pretty rough on ...more
Dec 26, 2011 C.W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An era convulsed by religious reformation and a convent on the threshold of irrevocable change are the basis for Sarah Dunant's eloquent, compelling third novel in her Renaissance trilogy, SACRED HEARTS.

When young and willful Serafina is immured against her wishes in the Convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, she is merely following in the terrible footsteps of countless unwanted or tarnished girls before her. It is estimated that by the late 16th century, dowries had grown
Oct 24, 2010 Marvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
What a pleasure this book was to read! A guilty pleasure perhaps. I'm not sure quite why "guilty," but that's probably all that's keeping me from giving it 5 stars--a vague sense that I probably shouldn't have liked this as much as I did. It's set in a convent in 16th-century Italy, with a cast of strong-minded women doing what they would not be able to do outside the convent walls--composing music & leading a choir, practicing medicine, administering a complex institution. And yet the autho ...more
Jul 13, 2009 Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honestly, in the back of my mind as I was enjoying the words of this book that I was reading, I had the seed of doubt already planted that I would be able to have the fortitude to write a review that could do this novel justice. Given the truth that on the outside, the setting may seem a bit bland to some - a nunnery back in the old days- 'how exciting can that be?'- I was intrigued, enthralled, engrossed with everything that went on within those convent walls.

And there is not a wide cast of ch
Janice  Durante
Aug 19, 2010 Janice Durante rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm an unapologetic fan of Sarah Dunant's, and her latest novel, set in 1570 in Ferrara, Italy, is another stunner. As she did in The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan , Dunant immerses the reader in the Renaissance and shines a light on the constricted lives of women in that era. Sacred Hearts introduces us to sixteen-year-old Serafina, who, like many others of her milieu, has been forced to enter the convent against her will because her noble family cannot afford her dowr ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I loved the idea of this book. It’s set in a 16th century Italian convent--while convents often appear on the periphery in historical fiction, I was eager to get a more in-depth look inside one. And the book revolves around two potentially great characters: Serafina, a rebellious teenage novice, is the focal point of the story, while most of the book is told from the point-of-view of Zuana, a reluctant nun who nevertheless has found much to appreciate in convent life. Zuana in particular ought t ...more
Aug 24, 2009 Deirdre rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This richly layered historical narrative provided a fascinating glimpse into an often-overlooked facet of Renaissance life. Serafina is willful, passionate and adamantly unwilling to accept her fate and a life in the convent. While she plots her escape and creates a web of deception that only her advisor Zuana can penetrate, the rest of the convent struggles to reconcile her presence and her rebellion with the potential for glory that her renowned singing voice might bring them. At the same time ...more
Mar 04, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Every time I listened to this book, I felt transported to the halls of a sixteenth century convent. So many novels use convents as backdrops for either forbidden love affairs or terrible cruelty stories, but Dunant draws a much more balanced picture. She does not shy away from the fact of Renaissance life that many younger sisters in noble families as well as any women who were lame, deformed by disease, or simply not pretty enough for marriage were forced against their will into convents. But D ...more
Jul 19, 2013 Johanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good. Set in an Italian convent in the late 16th century it tells a fictional story of one of the many (primarily middle-class) women who were packed off to convents when dowrys couldn't be raised or some other fault made them less tempting brides. Convents are, like any other enclosed setting, particularly rich settings for novels and Sarah Dunant does a particularly good job of illuminating the power plays and tensions of life in a confined environment. One of the things that particularly ...more
Darkpool (protesting GR censorship)
Hmmm. Rather enjoyed this, although it was quite slow paced for much of the time. Sarah Dunant writes like a poet, and at times I had to resist the urge to pause and roll her phrases around in my mouth, or else I'd never get the book finished before it was due back at the library. I must admit I didn't notice it was written in the present tense until I was 2/3 of the way through, and wonder if this perhaps contributed to my interpretation of the style as poetical. Hmmm.
I enjoyed very much readi
Bookmarks Magazine
Jul 30, 2009 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sept-oct-2009
"British author Dunant expertly weaves the rhythms of daily convent life within the broader context of church politics and reform. Most critics were pleasantly surprised that a novel set in a nunnery could be fraught with such tension as they wondered, a bit nervously, about Serafina's ultimate fate. Dunant continues to create believable characters who were also very much women of their time. Several reviewers noted a sluggish beginning and occasional dry passages, but they believed readers woul ...more
Dunant portrays the role of women in seclusion in the Middle Ages well in this story. It is amazing how convents were crowded with women who had very little say in their own freedom. The story gives a plausible scenario of how a small, confined space can encroach not only on the psychological but physical being as well. Very little rights were given to women regardless of their birth. Many would rebel in their ways; many would also give in and give up the worlds they left behind. Dunant, however ...more
Apr 07, 2016 Alisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to give this book a 3.5. Actually, I really wanted to give it a 4, but that ending! Without giving anything away, I just want to say that Sarah Dunant's novel was a solid 4 until I reached the last section--which I was disappointed in. Perhaps others loved the ending, but I'm not happy with it AT ALL.

So--what's to love about the first 3/4s of the book? Sacred Hearts is set in Ferrara, Italy, in the late 16th century. It focuses on two characters: Suora Zuana, a long-time nun who
A novel that brings the reader into the minds and hearts of the participants. Having been raised Roman Catholic I was familiar with many of the rituals and procedures performed by the nuns and priest.

All characters are fully fleshed-out and believable. Dunant does a superb job of conveying the claustrophobia of the nunnery, the forbidding high walls, the dark solitude of each night in the "cells". But there is also beauty and serenity inside the convent. The details and background information a
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“She is only a young woman who did not want to become a nun. The world is full of them.” 2 likes
“God always seeth man from heaven and the angels report to Him every hour.” 1 likes
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