Sacred Hearts
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Sacred Hearts

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  7,545 ratings  ·  1,065 reviews
This publication is not for sale to libraries. 1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara, and the convent of Santa Caterina is filled with noble women who are married to Christ because many cannot find husbands outside. Enter sixteen-year-old Serafina howling with rage and hormones and determined to escape.
Paperback, Large Print, 735 pages
Published September 16th 2009 by Not Avail (first published 2009)
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Judy
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...more
Sara
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
Kate Quinn
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
Kate
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...more
Michelle
"We� ve come a long way, baby. It may be clich�d, 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.[re...more
Ali
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...more
Laura C.
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
Ruth
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
Doug Bradshaw
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...more
Sarah
"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
Lory
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
C.W.
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...more
Marvin
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
Janice  Durante
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
Deirdre
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
Rebecca
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
Alexandra Daw
This was an interesting read. I feel a bit mean giving it 3 stars because it is a Virago book and I do love Viragos. However the writing didn't make me gasp and the story didn't grip me I'm afraid. I really had to push through the first couple of chapters. Religious fundamentslism tends to turn me off and there are some odd ball characters in this convent.

That is not to say however that it is a bad book or that it shouldn't be read. I just wouldn't put it at the top of your list. It is however a...more
Johanne
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...more
Bookmarks Magazine
"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
Denise
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...more
Lisa Louie
I read Sacred Hearts for the Vibes & Scribes book group, and thoroughly enjoyed it for its imagining of convent life in16th century Italy although its story has a modern flavor to it. The story is told from the viewpoint of a senior nun, the dispensary sister who might have worked as an apothecary if she had been born male. The tender balance of convent life is upset when a young noblewoman is forced to enter it after she falls in love with the wrong man. Her presence ignites a political st...more
Jeane
Sacred heart tells us about Serafina, a yount girl who has been forced into the convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara, Italy.
The first night she spends in the convent she screams, has passed long ago the level of being angry to a feeling a lot more negative and stronger. Suora Zuana, who is in charge of the dispensary, has to sedate the girl during the night and will be the first person who buolds a relationship with Serafina. A relationship which will always be difficult and complex, where the l...more
Betty-Anne
What an absolutely satisfying, wonderful book. I can never get enough of Sarah Dunant, and Sacred Hearts, her third novel set in Renaissance Italy makes me wish I could read it again for the first time.

Sacred Hearts takes the reader completely into a time when women’s lives were absolutely ruled by men – fathers and husbands on the one hand, and the prevailing rulers on the other. Young girls, particularly in the noble class, had no say in their futures. Their lives could either be lived in the...more
Alyce (At Home With Books)
Each time I picked up Sacred Hearts and read it I felt like I was entering into the quiet hallways of a convent. While the plot of this book has it's fill of drama and conflict, the portrayal of the nuns in the convent was such that you get a full picture of what their daily life is like with its routine and stability.

I have often wondered what it would have been like to be a nun, in any era, but somehow I had never really given any thought to those nuns who were forced into convents. It is some...more
Helen

This is a fascinating read because the structure of the convent and its daily practice is laid out and the two women who are detailed are such a contrast: one is an older woman who was dropped into the convent on the death of her much loved father and the other is a teenager who is in love with her music teacher. The older woman had been taught medicine by her father and is now a settled sister in charge of the dispensary while the teenager is determined to escape 'prison' and rejoin her beloved...more
Sterlingcindysu
What a great book, combining history, religion, moral dilemnas, music, medicine--lots of research here! This is the first of Dunant's books I've read. It was a "thick" read, with lots of details of the daily life of a convent in 1540, describing clothes, food, music, everything. I really appreciated the daily order of offices, not being Catholic myself I had no idea nuns woke up at 2 AM everyday (or used to). (copied review) In 16th-century Italy, convents aren't merely for housing religious ord...more
Keith
This compelling story of life in a sixteenth century Benedictine convent is marvelously well told. Although carefully ordered and scrutinized to protect itself from most secular influences of the outside world, fictional Santa Caterina reveals itself, in many ways, as a microcosm of political and religious permutation in Reformation Italy. Here devout and devoted nuns are willing to sacrifice their lives for their religious beliefs and the fealty of their order and yet a certain sense of civic e...more
Cathy
A few years ago, Nancy Pearl visited Tucson and spoke to a group of library staff about readers advisory. She light-heartedly challenged us to suggest titles/authors that we either liked or thought obscure, for which she'd suggest comparable material. I mentioned Dorothy Dunnett, and Nancy Pearl countered with Sarah Dunant. (I promised I wouldn't remark on the similarity of last names, but there you are.) It's taken all this time for me to try Dunant, probably because I smugly assumed no one cou...more
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aka Peter Dunant (with Peter Busby)
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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
“Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” And she had tried, truly and honestly, tried so hard that sometimes, despite the nun’s kindness and patience, she thought she might go mad with the effort.” 0 likes
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