Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: The Doctor and the Diva

The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell

Publication Date: October 25, 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: Paperback. 422pp

(Received for an honest review from Viking)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Adrienne McDonnell on the WEB: website, facebook

Excerpt from The Doctor and the Diva (Look Inside Feature)



It is 1903, and Erika von Kessler has struggled for years to become pregnant. Resigned to childlessness, Erika - an opera singer and the wife of a prominent Boston businessman - secretly plans to move to Italy to pursue her career. The charismatic Doctor Ravell is a rising star of obstetrics. When Erika becomes his patient, he is mesmerized by her elegance and extraordinary voice - and finds himself taking an impetuous risk that could ruin them both.

Stunningly realized and inspired by the author's family history, the novel moves from snowy Boston to the tropical forests of the Caribbean to the gilded balconies of Florence. It is a searing tale of opera, longing, and the indomitable power of romantic obsession.


The Doctor and the Diva, is the debut novel by writer Adrienne McDonnell. Rich period detail and historical references, along with in depth research make this a novel that historical fiction enthusiasts won't want to miss. McDonnell draws on family history and correspondence to bring to life one woman's struggle between the family she loves and the career she can't live without. A deeply emotional book that will leave readers reeling!

The Doctor and the Diva follows the life of up and coming opera singer Erika von Kessler. A woman who's talent was astounding. McDonnell portrays Erika as a woman who was extremely passionate about her craft and who was uncompromising in pursuit of her dreams. Erika is married to a man who could give her the world. Money isn't an object, but he can't provide her with the love of an audience, with allure of the Italian opera house or the sense of accomplishment that comes with singing to the masses. Erika and Peter have struggled for years to start a family and just when Erika has decided to leave Peter and travel to Italy the chance at having a child becomes more real.

The relationship that McDonnell fosters between Erika and Peter is an interesting one. Peter is determined that if Erika becomes pregnant she will not want to leave. She will stay and be the perfect mother and forget her dreams of stardom. But Erika just isn't that kind of woman. When they begin seeing a renowned obstetrician Dr. Ravell, it becomes all the more apparent that Erika is a mesmerizing woman. Ravell quickly falls under her spell and will do anything to help her conceive a child, if that means she will remain close to him. I had very little trouble understanding what drew men to Erika, McDonnell makes her character come alive. She was eccentric in some ways, sensual and alluring in others. There was just so much to this character. 

I loved the historical references that McDonnell weaved into this complicated story of Erika's struggle to decide how to proceed with her life. The time period was very well described and the reader will have no problem imagining the courage that it might take for a woman to leave her husband and travel to Europe alone. I liked all of the references to obstetrics and the science behind fertility treatments and the kinds of techniques and idea's that McDonnell uses to pull this story together. I had no idea that this kind of research was going on so early in history. I had assumed that the techniques described by the author was much more current. 

McDonell is able to take a very character driven novel and give readers not only a highly entertaining and emotional read, but a very historically accurate and believable story. I liked the way that all three of the main characters are so interwoven. There lives so completely dependent on each other. I also enjoyed the exotic locations that McDonnell takes the reader as these characters practically chase each other around the world. I thought this was a great debut novel that has some very shocking decisions and carries with it the age old question of whether a mother should stay home and nurture a child or be free to pursue her dreams.

This one will appeal to historical fiction readers, opera enthusiasts and book clubs. I think it would be a perfect selection because of all the drama and emotion involved in the story. There would certainly be some lively discussion about fertility and the choices that women sometimes make. All of the characters are flawed and human and very interesting. I really enjoyed this novel and the amount of research needed to pull something like this off is amazing. Being a former history major I loved the historical details and referencing. If you are looking for historical fiction with some shocking moments, this one fits the bill!

The Doctor and the Diva is available NOW from your favorite bookseller. 

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She based The Doctor and the Diva, her first novel, on the true story of an ancestor-a woman who deserted her wealthy husband and child to further her operatic career. The author relied on a trove of family letters and memories of elderly relatives who have long been haunted by the tale. She lives near San Francisco.