Excerpt from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Nightingales of Troy

by Alice Fulton

The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 256 pages
    Jul 2009, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

“You’ll be a beautiful corpse,” I told her. And she perked up. If she wasn’t bleaching her freckles with borax in rose water, she was applying solutions of corrosive sublimate, prussic acid, and caustic potash to her complexion. There was a tin of Poudre Rajeunissante containing ratsbane in her room, for Kitty had been an arsenic-eater since the age of seventeen. She stayed pretty nimble despite this habit. But she’d experience the fatal symptoms and be carried off should she stop. Once begun, an arsenic-eater is tied to that unnatural diet all her days. I never let the children visit her upstairs for fear they’d get into her poisons and destroy their lives.

I followed her eyes to six-year-old Charlotte. She was standing with her arms spread like wings and her head wrenched back toward the sky.

“That’s cross prayers,” Edna told us. “Sister Honoraria showed her.” Edna was my eldest, an independent girl of eight years.

“The nun in the garden, I’ll warrant,” Kitty whispered. “That child has the most charming buck teeth.”

The Hill of Torture was lined with peddlers pitching miraculous medals and phony relics, and I just then spotted our Brides of Christ standing in full poverty by a vendor’s cart. Nuns had such dignity and difference, I always thought they should be introduced by a loud gust of trumpets. By the same token, ours were something of a Mutt and Jeff. Sister Immaculata was stately as a steeple, while Adelaide was jolly and stocky. Each had her hand concealed up its opposite batwing sleeve, and no hucksters were rushing them. Those men knew better than to pester a nun. I ran over to grab the little black satchels leaning against their hems.

“Good day, my dears. God be with you,” Sister Immaculata said. The woman had a voice in her like a velvet counterpane. Adelaide was making an ado over the kiddies.

We saw the procession forming then for the march up the Hill of Torture to the park where Katherine Tekakwitha had been born and saints had been martyred in days of old. We fell in with the other parishioners on the upwards trudge, saying the rosary and singing Aves aloud. Before long, we were wiping the dust off our eyes with holy water passed hand to hand.

Everyone had been fasting since midnight, and I’d all but lost interest in human sacrifice by the time we got to the top. The nuns were still full of tallyho, of course. The procession followed a dirt path through the Seven Dolors and the Stations of the Cross to the Martyrs’ Chapel. This was a rough-hewn log pavilion, open on all sides so overflowing pilgrims could hear Mass from the lawn—though being with two Mercy Sisters guaranteed us seats inside. Baby Dorothy was asleep, my Joseph was hoping for a sermon full of tomahawks, and the girls were busy with the pictures in my missal. Seeing as I could not confess my ill health to anyone alive, I roosted on the kneeler, eager to air my secret shame and heart’s desire before God’s saints.

I knew Katherine Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, had recovered from smallpox. She had been an orphan. And she had been Godly without being martyred. I respected her for that. My prayer went: If I was not worn out by the white plague, I would not worry about adding again to our household. But as I am poorly, I am sincerely sorry for it. I cannot go to a resort where the air is Adirondack and sleep on a screened-in porch. But help me be fit enough to give the child its life. Give me gumption. My spirit is gaunt. I told Katherine that if I died, my children would be half-orphans, halfway to St. Cieran’s Home. As an orphan herself, she’d know that when a mother goes to bed and dies, her little children stand crying because no one is minding them. The father might try, but he is too discouraged and new to the work to be useful.

Since a feeble mother will have a weak infant, I prayed mine would not be a blue baby or an idiot. Let it be born modern, a twentieth-century child, with no muck or mire, no caul or purple mother’s marks upon it, I prayed. Lily of the Mohawks, I said, let this baby have a decent, not a blind-alley life. I would not mind this baby being a saint, but I would not like it to be a martyr or a lost soul. A saint wasn’t much of a livelihood, but it was better than farming. Farm life was what I did not want for the baby most of all. Last, I prayed it would be an ordinary child and have happy luck all its days.

Reprinted from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton. Copyright (c) 2008. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Ghachar Ghochar
    by Vivek Shanbhag
    The Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) that has dominated economic news headlines over the past decade is the...
  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -