I just finished this novel and I had to come here and rave about it.
This is the first book of Donati’s that I’ve read. She is a historical fiction writer, and was recommended to me by an Outlander fan as we wait for Season 4 to start. (In fact, the author of Outlander gave Donati permission to reference Jamie and Claire in her book Into the Wilderness, which is what got me interested to begin with. Into the Wilderness is the first novel in a six-book series and is 898 pages long; I borrowed The Gilded Hour to read first because I thought it was a standalone at 700+ pages, and before investing that much time into a series, wanted to get a taste of the author’s writing. Anyway!).
Yinz. It is SO GOOD and one of the best works of straight-up feminist/intersectional historical works of fiction that I’ve read. The book focuses on Anna Savard and Sophie Savard, two female physicians practicing in 1883 New York. The central mystery of the book involves abortion, birth control, and the Comstock Laws. People of color are not magically erased from the setting—in fact, Anna Savard has Native American ancestry, as does Sophie (they are cousins), and Sophie is multiracial-a “free woman of color” (quotes because that is the term Sophie uses to describe herself) from New Orleans who was orphaned in the Civil War. And Sophie isn’t a token—we see her POV, and she has a rich but mysterious past and personal life; we see how being a woman and a Black woman particularly affects her personal life and practice. She is the more “open” of the two cousins; Anna to me felt a bit too closed off at first. There are other Black characters in the novel, too, one of whom, Sam Reason, a widowed printer, was (I believe) set up in this novel to be Sophie’s love interest in the second (because there is a sequel coming in 2019, apparently!).
It’s just a very detailed book filled with practical and compassionate characters. Another mystery involves four lost Italian orphans that Anna takes under her wing; and a love story for Anna (as well as Sophie, but as Sophie leaves the main setting of the novel near the end of the book, it focuses more on Anna. So, Anna’s love story is more fleshed out).
I was so impressed with the attention to historical detail, and I learned so much from the novel itself and Donati’s works cited list. For example, this is the FIRST TIME I’ve ever heard of the NY Draft riots.
Apparently the infrastructure of NY was very quick-moving and constantly changing. There were still many parts of it that were still farmland; the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island did not exist just yet. So to see NY in this stage was very interesting.
It also nails the depictions of women’s health in a way that is still timely (the novel was published in 2015). From the underground information networks for birth control/abortion, and women-focused midwifery to male-dominated gynecologists/gynecology, to how birth control (and the women who use it) was/is demonized. It is just SO good. There is a moment when Anna is relieved that the man she is interested in understands how dire the situation is for women’s sexual health and she feels relieved that he understands. I get that. It just felt very real. It’s also interesting to note that the main characters’ progressive mindsets are largely a result of their backgrounds. All of the characters in one way or another are not at the top of the social ladder, and this enables them to be empathetic to people of all backgrounds.
IDK, I am still in post-reading bliss but I am totally in love with this book and was so sad to leave the characters behind—until I realized there is another book on the way!
Phew, that was long! It’s 2 AM here so I should get to bed. Anyone else read Donati or have similiar books that they’d like to share?