Book Review: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
What a stunning historical novel! Sarah Dunant has a huge following for her Italian Renaissance novels, but Sacred Hearts could very well be her best book yet! Set in 1570 this is a book of passion and power, religion and music – and it grips from the opening pages to the remarkable ending.
Sarah Dunant writes like a painter and quickly brings to life the Italian city of Ferrara and the convent of Santa Caterina – many of the nuns noble women who are married to Christ because their families cannot afford the dowry for a husband. The convent is an oasis of calm routine, devotion and selflessness, until 16-year-old Serfina arrives against her will – howling with rage and despair and determined to escape the convent walls so she can be reunited with her lover. In an era where religious, political and social forces were stacked against women, Serfina shows amazing resilience in holding on to her dream of escaping, despite the overwhelming odds that she will be incarcerated for the rest of her life. Naturally her arrival disrupts the entire convent, and as much as she tries to remain aloof from the nuns around her, she forms an unlikely friendship with Suora Zuana, the nun who runs the dispensary and tends to the convents medical needs – which may very well work against her aim of escape.
This novel is dedicated to the nuns who were shut up against their will and ‘deprived of all contact with the outside world,’ – although it also reveals the religious life of the devout who chose to be there also. It highlights a time and place in history where noblewomen had only three choices in life – they married (if their families could afford the massive dowries); or they spent the rest of their days living in a convent – or a few independent women became courtesans. Sacred Hearts is beautifully paced and is historical storytelling at its very best – impeccably researched, emotionally charged, mesmerizing and powerful.