Book Review: The Doctor and The Diva

The Doctor And The Diva is a lush historical novel filled with vivid imagery and meticulously detailed settings. The story centers around Erika von Kessler, an opera singer in turn of the 20th century Boston. Based on a member of the author's family tree, The Doctor and the Diva rises above formulaic historic romance to give us a glimpse into another world - one filled with conflicting desires, expectations and overwhelming ambitions.

Unusually for a story in this setting, one of the primary characters is an obstetrician who is a specialist in conception. This subject matter, combined with a reverence for opera and the power of the music set up a conflict between a woman's desire for motherhood and career.

I do not know if Adrienne McDonnell sings, but she has very effectively captured the 'voice' of opera and the otherworldly aspects of singing this glorious music. Erika von Kessler is torn between the pull of her art and the responsibilities of motherhood, and throughout this book we feel her struggle and labor with impossible decisions. For those of us who will never open our own mouth and hear the angels of Puccini pour out, this is as close as we can get to understanding what it feels like to stand on the opera stage.

Although Erika has two men in her life and romance is a big part of the story, by books end I was entranced not by the romantic story, but by the tale of a woman finding herself - against all odds and with little to no support from the men in her life. This book is about a woman daring to BE.

Adrienne McDonnell's debut novel "The Doctor And The Diva" (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking ISBN:9780670021888) will be on sale July 26, 2010.


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