Where the Light Enters
“a big brava! to Sara Donati for giving us this novel. It shows a writer who never stops improving technically while still burning with passion for her subject. And it leaves us hoping she will carry on the saga through the next generations in the Bonner family tree.”
It is sooooo nice to have a big, fat book in your hands and know with confidence that it will be a terrific read from the moment you open the cover. And it will go on for almost 700 pages, engaging you for days.
We can thank Sara Donati for this delightful luxury. Donati is a serious historical novelist, and her new book is the eighth in her saga about the Bonner family, launched with Into the Wilderness over a decade ago.
It’s all U.S. history, covering America’s dazzling escalation from an unsettled, barely explored country to an industrial and political leader in the world.
Although the author divides the volumes into two groups, the Wilderness Series and the Stuyvesant Square series, the family tree proves that it’s all the same saga underneath.
From the Adirondack forest where it all began in 1790, the saga has cycled back to New York State after gallivanting around the continent bringing us important turning points in the nation’s history. This book 2 in the Stuyvesant Square series centers on New York City, where so much was happening in the mid-1880s.
The book’s focus is unashamedly on people’s rights, told through the viewpoints of a pair of women physicians, related through the Bonner pedigree. Between them and their family and associates they bring multiple ethnic groups and financial/social classes to the table.
What’s unsettling is that the challenges they face in their time are so similar to what the same ethnic, financial, and social classes are going through in 2019! Not to mention the eternal battle of the sexes as women fight to be treated as equals.
All these thematic elements are held together by a mystery plot about a serial killer murdering pregnant women through intentionally botched abortions. The cases affect the book’s cast of characters because of their medical and legal practices, and relationships with the NYC police force investigating the crimes.
Even if this sketch doesn’t interest you in the novel, you may still find yourself drawn in because of Donati’s writing. She evokes the world, the problems, the personalities of the time and place so well that it’s easy to forget you’re reading.
And because she’s a thorough researcher, you can trust her presentation. Therefore, while lost in the fictional drama, you can’t help but learn about the politics, lifestyles, and technologies of the period, and understand how they led to our time. These are hallmarks of masterfully composed historical fiction.
The book is also spiced with historical illustrations. Not artwork, but accurate representations of newspaper articles, legal and medical reports, advertisements, telegrams, and personal stationery. Through these Donati solves the perpetual challenge of backstory.
The first section of the book introduces the characters through their correspondence and news reports about them. This not only establishes the period tone authentically, but also reminds previous readers where the story left off, and connects the old and new scenarios. New readers get a swift and interesting profile of who’s who and a foundation for what’s to come.
The author additionally helps readers by including the family tree, a dramatis personae organized by household or enterprise, and a local map. Considering the book’s length and complexity, these goodies enhance comprehension and enjoyment.
In further demonstration of the author’s skill, the multiple viewpoints used to tell the story are seamlessly connected. One never loses track of who, where, when, and what; and the why behind each scene is either crystal clear or clearly another strand of the larger story progressing toward the conclusion.
Finally, while the subject matter is often painful (indeed, the title comes from the quote “The wound is the place where the light enters”), the book itself is uplifting. Each character is psychologically strong despite the many bad things that happen to them or their loved ones, or the helpless ones in their care. We are left with a sense of accomplishment and hope.
If there’s a flaw to be found, it lies in occasional “laundry list” descriptions. These occur when scene settings change. In trying to keep her characters moving through the scene, the author sometimes streams many details of period-relevant items in the setting rather than building them into the actors’ choreography.
Readers who enjoy building images in their minds while reading will relish such details. Readers who prefer a story to trot along more briskly might find their eyes glazing over in those moments. They are only moments, though, and trivial in the context of the full work.
Overall, a big brava! to Sara Donati for giving us this novel. It shows a writer who never stops improving technically while still burning with passion for her subject. And it leaves us hoping she will carry on the saga through the next generations in the Bonner family tree.