Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review - The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

Opening Sentence:  Early on a March morning on the cusp of spring, Anna Savard came in from the garden to find a young woman with a message that would test her patience, disrupt her day and send her off on an unexpected journey: a harbinger of change wearing the nursing habit of the Sisters of Charity, stnading in the middle of the kitchen.

Synopsis:  The international bestselling author of Into the Wilderness makes her highly anticipated return with a remarkable epic about two female doctors in nineteenth-century New York and the transcendent power of courage and love…

The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy. Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life. For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him. With its vivid depictions of old New York and its enormously appealing characters, The Gilded Hour is a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves Sara Donati is an author at the height of her powers.

Review by Mirella Patzer / History and Women

Sara Donati's latest novel is set in the late 1800's in New York City. At the heart of the story are two women, Anna and Sophie Savard who are both doctors specializing in women's health. Along with their passion for their work and the women they help, they both struggle to survive in the male oriented occupation amd the social norms and prejudices of the time - namely, against contraception and abortion, no matter the reason. 

This is a long novel - about 700 pages or so. But don't let that distract you. Contained within every page are a barrage of historical details, accurate and relevant to the times. It is very much a novel about women's struggles and their fight to seize control of their own health. And although this character driven novel is not fast paced, it is nevertheless engrossing and a manual of learning for this very tumultuous time in history. Sara Donati includes numerous real, notorious characters of the time in addition to the well-crafted fictional ones. Her research into New York City before the turn of the century is definitely vivid, accurate, and compelling, as is her portrayal of doctors, nurses, and the health system of the time. All this makes this an important historical novel that not only entertains, but teaches us. 

The characters face plenty of hardships and there is the plight of three orphaned Italian children forcefully separated by authorities. The main characters show compassion in coming to their aid and searching for the lost children. And of course, there is a love story too, some midwifery, and the rise of some women out of slavery. Yes, there is a lot going on, which makes this novel truly rich and compelling. Truly, this is historical women's fiction at its best and I highly recommend it.  

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Andi's English Attic said...

Thank you. This sounds like something I will enjoy reading. x

nazira akhtar said...
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Allen jeley said...