Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant is 406 pages and was published in 2009. I just read Dunant’s Birth of Venus, and was captivated by the prose, the rich historical fabric of the novel, and the compelling plot. This novel did the same for me.
Let me say up front that I am Catholic, so I have a particular affinity for books about nuns and priests–whether they behave as they should or not–so I may be biased. Sacred Hearts is about the complex inner workings of a sixteenth century Italian convent, and the lengths the nuns in it will go to in order to preserve their way of life.
When sixteen year old Isabetta–or Serafina, as she is named in the convent–comes to Santa Caterina, forced there by her father for a love affair with her musical instructor, her arrival causes much upset to the peaceful routines of the nuns. She rebels in ways physically violent to herself and others until she learns that her cooperation may allow her more freedom than she had anticipated. Her friendship with Suara Zuana–the convent healer–awakens things in herself and the older nun that neither of them expected, and their friendship in integral to the dénouement of the book.
It’s hard to believe that a book about nuns is such a page turner, but it is. It was everything I always wanted The Name of the Rose to be. It enlightened me on a place in history I knew nothing about, it was an in depth character study of some very complex women, and the mysticism was intriguing but realistic.
The only thing that I had a hard time with in the book was the lack of male characters, but I understand that this is a personal issue. I need representatives of both sexes to feel balanced in a book, and the men just weren’t there. Though, that added to my identification with the novice, Serafina, in her longing for her lover, and heightened my frantic feelings along with hers.
I look forward to more books by Ms. Dunant.