This one is an absolute favorite! Awarded five stars on Goodreads.
Armed with both the physical book and book-on-tape, I intended to start with the audio version (for a short road trip) and then switch to the hardback. Instead, because I so loved the language, voices and storytelling, I listened to the entire 31 hours of audio and was completely absorbed into a different period of time.
The Gilded Hour combines the best of three genres — historical fiction, romance, and murder mystery. It takes you deep into New York City’s Gilded Age of the 1880s where cousins Anna and Sophie Savard (one a woman of color) are among the first women doctors in the city.
Facing intense sexism and second class status in both their professional and social lives, these women nevertheless devote themselves to improving the lives of the poor and less fortunate. It’s a tall order in a city where zealot Anthony Comstock is trying to prevent women from learning even the most basic information about how their reproductive organs work and women of all classes can find themselves at the mercy of a tyrannical and brutal husband.
In this one novel, Donati paints such a full and rich picture of NYC society — from the posh parties at the Vanderbilt mansion to the thousands of orphans living on the street. There’s a lot to absorb about the limitations of medical treatment, including the nearly impossible access to contraception and resulting botched abortions.
Prejudice against AND BY new immigrants and “coloreds”, bribes in the police department, glimpses of less-than-authentic church-sponsored charity, even congested pre-automobile traffic — are all brought to life through rich characters, believable dialog, and just enough period detail.
To counter what could have been an overly dark picture of the city at this time, Donati also includes budding romance, the intense love and support provided by family, and the resiliency of human beings able to recover from the most disturbing tragedies. And Donati doesn’t make the mistake of tying everything up too neatly at the end. The resolutions are much more realistic than that.
I found the entire book absorbing and surprising. It was a joy to turn every page (actually switch to the next disc). This is the first book I’ve read by Sara Donati but I will certainly now go on to read more.
Note: Sara Donati is the name this author uses for her historical fiction. She also writes novels under the name Rosina Lippi and technical non-fiction works under the name Rosina Lippi-Green.