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

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The Nightingales of Troy

by Alice Fulton

The Nightingales of Troy
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 256 pages
    Jul 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt

“There is no need to thank me,” she said. “There is a giving that does not impoverish and a withholding that does not enrich. I have but one request.”

Nuns always want some little selfless thing in exchange for their favors, I find. God’s the same way when you think about it.

“Everything in the convent is ours, not mine. To give property without permission is a form of theft. I have been chastised in the past for giving to the indigent. I have been called more of a chemist than a Sister, more nurse than nun. I battle for obedience. Yet St. Dominic said he would sooner cut up the rule book than let it be a burden to one’s conscience. I have taken you into my confidence. I ask only that you hold my words in trust.”

“You mean keep mum?”

She nodded, and I didn’t stop to dicker. Give me that remedy! was how I felt. She told me the way to the convent’s medicine closet, a large room in the cellar that would be open at this hour. “What if I meet up with one of your sidekicks?” I wondered.

“If questioned, you must tell the truth,” she said firmly. “Tell the truth, and say St. Gregory the Great directed us to dispense to all sufferers that which they need.”

I set off for the medicine room on a trail that twisted through corridors of mostly closed doors. The worst of it was windows now and then threw rays on big framed pictures whose sudden faces scared the daylights out of me. All along, I worried some nun would creep up on the balls of her feet in high perfection behind me and ask my business. I had to keep thinking of the baby and of all the cures I’d tried to no avail. When I got to the convent’s depths, which were dim and dank as a root cellar, I wished especially for a lamp. But I remembered “Tekakwitha” meant “she who cuts the way before her” and felt steadier. At long last, I arrived at the third left-hand door of the west wing. In the sincere hope that I had not gone off course, I stopped and turned the knob.

My eyes had a tolerance for darkness by now. I could make out a long table of ledgers and accounts, along with stacks of labels, stamps, and envelopes. It looked like a tidy business for the Sisters, and I wished them well. To my left, I saw shelves holding small white cakes and bottles. Seizing one, I read the Indian Perfection label thrice. I’d already knotted the Bayer Heroin in my apron corner, and now I rolled the remedy in this garment and tucked the hem at my waist. It was high time, too, for a bell was tolling. And since early and provident fear is the mother of safety, and I’d as lief have my wolf teeth pulled as be caught red-handed, I fled.


That fall was damp as a gravedigger’s skin. By November I’d developed a hectic fever that left pink circles in my cheeks. Before the winter zeros struck, I thought I’d better mend my lacy lung with Sister’s remedy. Whether it was her medicine or the disease itself, by some means I was lifted into the high altitudes of hope and held there. I somehow kept my cheer, and in April the last shrouds of snow melted. Though I was large as Jumbo by then, the work of the farm would not allow me to remove myself from view as some think prudent.

One Saturday, having finished the morning chores and served a bountiful hot lunch, I was on my knees scrubbing the kitchen oilcloth and thinking about Kitty. That one isn’t one to make love to the corners! I was thinking. Why, I’ve seen her grab a pair of silk drawers and begin dusting if she heard a neighbor on the steps. When I opened her trunk to get fresh linen, a swarm of mothmillers flew out, and we had to fumigate. Such were my thoughts when I felt the first pain. I didn’t trust it since the baby had been incubating only eight months by my reckoning. And even if it was not a false alarm, it takes time for pain to work itself into a birth. Joe and Bill were leaving for town, but reasoning thus, I said nothing.

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

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