Monday, February 27, 2012

Title: Sacred Hearts

Rating <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Summary: 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.

Review: This novel takes you into the world of a nunnery in the later part of the 1500's in the Italian city of Ferrara.  The nuns live in a very sequestered world, where they avoid most contact with the outside world, except for a few concerts performed for nobles, and some occasions where they have supervised visits with family members.  I for one did not know that nuns in this time period, lived such sheltered and protected lives away from society, and that so many of them were thrust into this lifestyle through no choice of their own.

The main character of this story is a young woman of noble blood , Serafina, who is thrust into the nunnery against her will, because she fell in love with the wrong man, and the book follows her struggles with rebellion, both to escape, find herself, and the betrayal and trust that define her friendships with nuns who befriend her in the nunnery.  One of these people, Suora Zuana, is the dispensary mistress, who looks after the nun's health, and has many struggles of her own.

This book was an easy read, the author kept it at an easy pace, and it has been one of my favorite reads so far this year. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys strong, characters; and women who were fighting to maintain what independence they had in a time of struggle for the Church they had pledged their lives to serve.

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