Kathie's Reviews > Sacred Hearts

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
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's review
Jan 31, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 31 to February 09, 2011

The story of a Benedictine convent in northern Italy in the 1500's when the daughters of families who were not willing or able to pay a dowry for their daughter's marriage would sent them to a convent instead. Serafina is once such novice committed to the convent to separate her from a man the family believed to be unfit for her. Serafina has a lovely singing voice but refuses to embrace the life that has been imposed on her. Apothecary Suora Zuana takes Serafina under her wing and begins to instruct her about the potions and remedies that she is allowed to concoct to treat the other nuns as well as some ailing priests and bishops. Suora Zuana learned most of the uses of herbs and medicines from her father and joined the convent when he left her alone in a world when respectable women were not allowed to work or live on their own. Dunant explains that the convents were full of women who were poor, unattractive, abused, not very smart, or too smart.

Serafina continues to be an unwilling novice who poses a number of challenges to the abbess and others. One gets a sense of the obedience, structured life, fanaticism, relationships, and isolation that were a part of life inside the convent in 16th century Italy where many who lived there, lived there unwillingly. The author explains that the science that Suora Zuana practices as well as some of the lenient ways of the convent were frowned upon or forbidden and several attempts were made to limit them before the end of the 1500's.

The author notes that the characters are fictional but the history included in the novel was true.

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