The Scribe of Siena
by Melodie Winawer
Debut novelist Melodie Winawer takes us to 14th century Italy right on the cusp of the Black Plague contagion.
A neurosurgeon in the contemporary time, Beatrice Trovato never knew what was lying in wait for her when she came to Italy. Having just lost her brother unexpectedly, the decision to honour his legacy by continuing on with his work was something she inherited. He was on the verge of discovering the genesis of the Black Plague. And because it was a blight in the history of Siena, local historians didn’t take too well on Beatrice’s intrusion. But she persevered. Especially when she discovered the journal written by a local artist from hundreds of years ago. The journal that will transport her to the year before the spread of the Black Plague.
Set in the backdrop of a period in history ripe with conspiracy and political intrigue, The Scribe of Siena is a languid tale of time travel, medical mystery, romance, and murder. Melodie Winawer is a scholar at heart – and it shows with every delicate and intricate detail. Though at times verbose, the writing showed intelligence and industrious research. I, for one, was caught almost immediately by page one. Through her words, I felt like Beatrice seeing Italy in a way that she’s never seen before. She tasted foods that are, in a lot of ways, culinary magic in their simple, most organic form. And the way she showed how art was preserved all through these years made me want to pack a bag and book the next flight to any countries that were cradles of civilization.
Beatrice is an incredible character. She was resourceful and clever; persistent and untiring. I love her passion in medicine and in helping people. I also love her relationship with her brother who became her father figure when they both lost their parents. It was sadly cut short, but readers can tell how big of a role he played in her life. She also seems to have a knack for adapting to any situations in which she was forced. To find herself in medieval Italy and not break down in tears of desperation was admirable to me. Some may find this unbelievable but I thought Melodie has done such a great job in character development that I was convinced Beatrice was such a person who effectively compartmentalized emotions and situations that help her deal with any trauma in a calm manner. (It’s the neurosurgeon in her, I think.)
Beatrice also has this uncanny and very pronounced emphatic ability. It’s almost like a sixth sense that enabled her to detect any grave diseases in her patients that technology is, otherwise, unable to detect. A great mystery and mysticism that only enhanced my admiration for her.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, dealt with his own grief the only way an artist know how. (He lost his wife while giving birth to their stillborn son.) He threw himself in his work and never lost faith in the Divine (as evidenced by his work). Their romance was gentle and tentative on the whole. Part of this is Beatrice’s uncertainty with her future or very distant past, as it were.
This book didn’t incite boredom. I was captivated, intrigued and for an entire weekend, completely immersed. I was curious right along with Beatrice to see a place from a different perspective. Apologies for this supremely long winded gushing. But if you’ve not the time to read this review in its entirety, then there are only two words that you need to know: READ THIS.
Read this for the romance.
Read this for a peek at a period in Italian history unlike anything you’ve read before.
Read this for Beatrice – who is easily one of the coolest, bad-ass chick I’ve read in a while.
Whichever reason you picked for trying this book on for size, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.