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The Scribe of Siena: A Novel Hardcover – May 16, 2017
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"Will remind historical fiction readers of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander and Tracy Chevalier's The Girl with the Pearl Earring...Lovers of meticulously researched historical fiction and time-travel narratives will be swept away by the spell of medieval Siena." (LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review))
"THE SCRIBE OF SIENA is one part historical mystery and one part love story with a captivating dose of art mixed in for good measure. If that weren't enough, it all comes together in that most evocative of settings: Siena, Italy. Winawer's smart debut is a joy to read! (MEG WAITE CLAYTON, New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters and The Race for Paris)
"A detailed historical novel, a multifaceted mystery, and a moving tale of improbable love... The vivid descriptions of the people, way of life, food, and other details of medieval Italy deepen the plot, making the book a truly immersive experience. The novel dramatically brings to life a period in Siena's history that is still overwhelmingly neglected by historians...Winawer has created a prodigious, vibrant tale of past and present that transports readers and fills in the historical gaps. This is a marvelous work of research and invention." -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY *STARRED* REVIEW
About the Author
Melodie Winawer is a physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University with degrees in biological psychology, medicine, and epidemiology, she has published forty-seven nonfiction articles and book chapters. She is fluent in Spanish and French, literate in Latin, and has a passable knowledge of Italian. Dr. Winawer lives with her spouse and their three young children in Brooklyn, New York. The Scribe of Siena is her first novel.
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However, I never felt/saw/smelled the middle ages. Granted, the heroine, because she could write, was associating with the upper crust. But she had to walk through the streets. She traveled. The milieu never came alive. There were a lot of lists of what was in a shop or in a room, but never in context of how the heroine felt about those things. The opening chapters that described her as surgeon jumped right off the page, so I was disappointed when we moved to the past.
The other oddity was how at home the woman felt there. Okay, she had studied medieval history, but I expected her to be more surprised. More "gob smacked" :-) The difference in culture and ease of life, not to mention techical capability, would seem to be confounding. She was more like, okay, I can fit in and ooohh, that painter is cute...
Still, I read to the end and will say the book was fun. Too bad I hoped for much more.
Melodie was a brilliant, intuitive, perceptive little girl, and those traits are all evident in this book. Her scholarship of medieval Italy shines through, but not at the expense of plot or characterization. The story moves briskly, imparts so much information without becoming pedantic. I loved the characters, and truly hope to see them appear again in more books. This book has earned a permanent spot in my Kindle library, and I look forward to reading it again over the years.
Through watching how Beatrice is with her patients, readers can immediately like her and care what happens to her. That feeling is further cemented when Winawer tells us of the wonderful relationship she had with her brother. And when she suddenly finds herself in Siena, she doesn't blend seamlessly into the woodwork. No, she gets in trouble for the way she's dressed (she doesn't have the right undergarments for the dress she stole from some poor woman's laundry basket). But she does get a break or two so she can scout around and try to figure out how to get back to the right time period.
Winawer brings medieval Siena to life while she roused my interest in a couple of things. Why was Siena so much harder hit by the Plague than all the other cities in Italy? Was there really an inter-city rivalry between Siena and Florence? That's one of the best things about well-written time travel books: they can jumpstart your curiosity and have you learning all sorts of things.
Earlier, I mentioned finding a couple of problems with The Scribe of Siena. One was that I thought the storyline could've used a slightly larger injection of the Plague to increase tension and suspense. The second was that the book seemed to run out of gas in the last hundred pages. However, this is a debut novel and an extremely enjoyable one at that. Melodie Winawer is an author to watch.