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Sacred Hearts: A Novel | [Sarah Dunant]

Sacred Hearts: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's 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, 16-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.

Sarah Dunant, the best-selling author of The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan, brings this intricate Renaissance world compellingly to life. Amid Sacred Hearts is a rich, engrossing, multifaceted love story, encompassing the passions of the flesh, the exultation of the spirit, and the deep, enduring power of friendship.

©2009 Sarah Dunant; (P)2009 Random House

What the Critics Say

"A cast of complex characters breathe new life into the classic star-crossed lovers trope while affording readers a look at a facet of Renaissance life beyond the far more common viscounts and courtesans. Dunant's an accomplished storyteller, and this is a rich and rewarding novel." (Publishers Weekly)
"Her painstaking portrait of this world, both its delights and its privations, is part of the pleasure of her story. ... Dunant's masterful portrait of both a time and a troubled adolescent's struggles builds the tension, as both the fate of Serafina and of the convent's way of life hangs in the balance." (Seattle Times)
"The story becomes a gripping thriller played out against a political battle between rival factions among the nuns. ... Dunant, wisely opting for modern dialogue rather than cod-Renaissance, heartbreakingly imparts the dread claustrophobia of a life sentence for girls who've barely begun to live." (Daily Mail, UK)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (125 )
5 star
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4.0 (58 )
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4.1 (57 )
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  •  
    connie Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada 10-09-09
    connie Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada 10-09-09 Member Since 2007

    trying to see the world with my ears

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3389
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    "Don't expect Ken Follett"

    Instead of church architecture, this period novel explores spiritual architecture - and without the vivid violence or sex of a "Pillars". Neither is it chiefly a romantic love story as the publisher's blurb could suggest. I'm vacillating between 4 and 5 stars - While it's not a GREAT novel and the narration did grate on my ears in a couple of places, once I listened long enough to get the author's rhythm, it was 1. a darn good read 2. original 3. in an odd way topical, given the curent Vatican "visitation" of N. American religious orders 4. helps answer why there is not more female composed Renaisance church music in existance and 5. gives some credit to the genius walled up (voluntarily or otherwise) in those medieval and Renaisance convents = 5 stars (but don't expect a page turner)

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara Pullman, WA, United States 04-19-10
    Barbara Pullman, WA, United States 04-19-10 Member Since 2001
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    "A riveting historical novel"

    I love well-written historical novels and I've always been fascinated by the life of nuns. This book was a gripping look into the world of an Italian convent--the politics, the spiritual lives, the practicalities. It was well done and the narration was absolutely perfect. Well worth the time.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra Canada 01-22-10
    Sandra Canada 01-22-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Great Book"

    This is a wonderful story that says a lot about the relationships between women. The historical background, in the book, is an added bonus. All the characters are well developed by the author. I felt as though I knew each one intimately by the book's end. Anyone interested in the history of women, cloistered nuns and who enjoys a love story that takes place on many levels will enjoy this book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pam United States 02-17-13
    Pam United States 02-17-13 Member Since 2007

    Science writer in America's heartland

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    "Uplifting view of nuns as real people"

    As a story of two lovers who are being kept apart, this book could have been set anywhere. But because it's told from the perspectives of nuns who are locked away in a convent—many not of their own free will—the story takes on a sharp dramatic edge. The main character is an older nun who struggles with the question of whether she should try to reunite the couple, and whether she herself should have been a nun in the first place. Set in 15th Century Europe, the book gives a glimpse of how culture at that time was changing the lives of nuns and women everywhere.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Armand Oakland Park, FL, United States 01-04-12
    Armand Oakland Park, FL, United States 01-04-12 Member Since 2004
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    "Beatifull"

    As with the previous 2 books of this genre by the author, this book shines. In many ways I consider it the most complex yet compared to the previous 2 novels, all the action takes place in a relatively small space- in a convent.The characters are 3 dimensional, the politics within the convent mirror the larger political forces of that era. And the description of the honest spiritual yearnings of the nuns is balanced with the psychology of supression, rationalization and sublimation as attempts to maintain their sanity since these women were imprisoned from childhood.
    I am very sorry its the last novel; hopefully there will be a 4th.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. E. Vige Columbia, SC USA 10-21-13
    C. E. Vige Columbia, SC USA 10-21-13 Member Since 2013

    Silver Gypsy

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Refreshing and Empowering Perspective"
    What made the experience of listening to Sacred Hearts the most enjoyable?

    So often we are told by media, fiction, and culture at large that the Church, past and present, supports and perpetrates the subjugation of women. In fact, as this novel demonstrates, medieval convents could be incredibly liberating places for the women who lived there. Here we see women governing themselves, pursuing science and the arts, being allowed to live up to their potential in ways that they have rarely been allowed to do elsewhere. By the same token, the novel is not naive to the pressures and abuses of power that took place from without and within. The historicity is textured and beautiful. The characters are rich with complexity, conflicts emerging both within them and from without. I was spellbound throughout, changing my mind more than once about whether I believed Serafina should find a place for herself in Santa Caterina or should escape to her beloved Iacobo (sp?). Thank you for this novel.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen BRADENTON, FL, United States 05-02-12
    Helen BRADENTON, FL, United States 05-02-12

    Lost4Words

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    "Well done Sarah!"
    Would you listen to Sacred Hearts again? Why?

    yes, it's a good historical representation of the period told with sensitivity through the experiences of nuns and the plight of women of that era.


    What other book might you compare Sacred Hearts to and why?

    Anya Seaton "The Green Darkness".. the story telling is as gripping.


    If you could take any character from Sacred Hearts out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Sarah Dunant, the author... because she is an old friend.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dennis Royer PA-Author of Earthburst 04-14-11
    Dennis Royer PA-Author of Earthburst 04-14-11
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    "Literary fiction and not an action thriller"

    Being an action junkie, I found the pace of this story to be excruciatingly slow. The author, Sarah Dunant, described convent life in such laborious detail that I felt every bit the prisoner listening as Serafina, the 16-year-old protagonist, enslaved to the sisters of the Santa Caterina convent. What kept me engaged was sympathy for Serafina while she endured abject despair. Fortunately, there is a satisfying ending.

    Students of history will enjoy the well-researched background material provided by the author and Rosalyn Landor does an excellent job with the narration. Her characters have distinct voices that are easy to identify.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Moragne Hopewell, VA, United States 02-14-11
    Moragne Hopewell, VA, United States 02-14-11
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    "Blessed Love"

    This is the third book by Sarah Dunant set in Italy during the Renaissance and this doesn't disappoint. I joke about little girls becoming nuns because their fathers don't want them to date or something, and this book was right up my alley concerning that(which is partially why I enjoyed it so.)

    I took my time reading this because I wanted to savour the detail and get a good feel for convent life. I felt the closeness, the harshness, the love, the hate, the alien-ness of being locked away from the world and yet still expected to serve in it on some level.

    The books starts out how I feel many women would respond if put into that situation. Screaming. This book made me glad that I'm a woman of the 21st century and can choose. I don't know what I would do if I were Serafina and forced into a place I didn't want to be. I don't believe I'd have her courage.

    I really liked all the of people Dunant placed in the convent to give it depth and movement. I'll be honest I'd made a horrible nun being surrounded by women and this book just confirmed it took strong women not to kill each other. There are factions and alliances to make Survivor seem like kindergarten recess. There's lying, gossip, back-talk and all done under a veil of "silence."

    Dunant takes you into a world that you hope to never experience, but almost want to try out even if just for a day.

    There were a few problems though. Sometimes I felt things were too overly explained. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt. I mean it ended well, but I felt like there could have been more closure. I also wish that one of the characters had a much bigger part in the book overall.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JACK RENO, NEVADA, United States 12-13-10
    JACK RENO, NEVADA, United States 12-13-10 Member Since 2010
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    "Lovey Reading"

    Was a little concerned that the book would be too long for the subject matter, but the hours went by too fast as I became immersed in the time period, the convent and the lives of the nuns. Very well read. I would definitely listen to another by both the author and narrator.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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