Summary and book reviews of Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters

by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati X
Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 672 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2020, 672 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the international bestselling author of The Gilded Hour comes Sara Donati's enthralling epic about two trailblazing female doctors in nineteenth-century New York.

Obstetrician Dr. Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the early spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of Dr. Anna Savard, her dearest friend, cousin, and fellow physician she plans to continue her work aiding the disadvantaged women society would rather forget.
 
As Sophie sets out to construct a new life for herself, Anna's husband, Detective-Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte calls on them both to consult on two new cases: the wife of a prominent banker has disappeared into thin air, and the corpse of a young woman is found with baffling wounds that suggest a killer is on the loose.  In New York it seems that the advancement of women has brought out the worst in some men. Unable to ignore the plight of New York's less fortunate, these intrepid cousins draw on all resources to protect their patients.

Chapter 1

Later, when people asked about her travels, Sophie would put it simply: the trip to Europe as a bride was hazy in her memory, but she would never forget the voyage home as a widow.

To travel from an alpine village some six thousand feet above sea level to a port on the Mediterranean was not a simple undertaking in winter with so many of the mountain passes closed, but it went without incident: first by sleigh down mountainsides on narrow, winding roads to the river valley, then by rail from Chur to Zürich where she spent the night in the Hotel Widder. On the second morning she traveled by rail to Lucerne, where she took a room at the Schweizerhof Hotel. It was small but elegant, with a comfortable bed in which she found no rest.

When the train left the station early the next day she studied the city, awash in snow flurries, swaddled in low clouds that hid the lake from view and robbed Lucerne of its charms. She could not find any way to feel about the city or the country....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title of the book comes from a quote attributed to Rumi: "The wound is the place where the light enters." In the story, who is wounded, and what light are those people finding or failing to find?
  2. The shipwreck survivors—Catherine Bellegarde in particular—awaken the sleeping physician inside Sophie. Would this have happened on its own, in time? Or did she need something to jolt her from that slumber?
  3. Elise plays many parts in the story. She's finding her way in a new life and profession, and experiencing many things for the first time. How does she change from the beginning of the book to the end? What do you think of her chosen path in medical science?
  4. Rosa and Lia name houses for things that are apparent to the eye: ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Where the Light Enters.
You can see the full discussion here.


"A woman who puts her profession before raising [her] children has no grounds for complaint when they are taken away." Do you find this sentiment is still present today at some level?
Although today children are not taken away from professional women, in many other ways the children sail out of sight for some professional women who leave the upbringing of their children to the care of Nannies, who are not always the best choice ... - evelyng

Anthony Comstock expended great time and energy on arresting and prosecuting physicians, midwives, and pharmacists. What do you think are his real motivations? What drives him? Do any of his reasons continue to have validity today?
I think he was a despicable character but necessary to the plot. Unfortunately, there are still people out there today who are prejudiced, egotistical, and refused to accept change in society because it would undermine his power and authority. - dorothyl

Ask the Author
I have read The Wilderness series, the two new books about Sophie and Anna, and some of your blogs. My husband was a big fan, too, and we shared your wonderful Elizabeth Bonner from the beginning to almost the end. When it seemed certain that ... - crisandy5

Cap writes to Rosa that "When hard things come along someone always has to be the strong one, the one who takes charge..." Do you agree with this statement? Do you feel Rosa is capable of filling this role?
Bless Rosa's heart, she has had too much to carry on her young shoulders. She will be strong with her siblings, but she will need the strong adults to lean on until she grows up. She is already showing characteristics of becoming "the strong one", ... - crisandy5

Do you think the adults in Rosa's life are doing the right thing for her? How does the fact that Anna and Sophie both lost their parents inform the way they treat her?
I have a little different view on the adults than has already been mentioned here. I find it interesting that Sophie seems to be a lot closer to Rosa than Anna is. I realize that she was staying at Sophie’s house, but it seems like Anna would have ... - mtnluvr

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With its focus on smart, courageous women physicians, who were a rarity but certainly not unheard of in the late 19th century, Where the Light Enters easily sets itself apart in the genre of historical fiction. It is an excellent followup to The Gilded Hour, but also can be read as a standalone novel. The controversial themes, headstrong heroines and gripping accounts of high-stakes medical trials all come together to create a winning combination...continued

Full Review (611 words).

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(Reviewed by Tara Mcnabb).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness
Much more than a simple mystery plot, Where the Light Enters touches on the complexities of marriage, the bonds of family (both by blood and by choice), the pernicious effects of drug addiction and the challenges Anna and Sophie face as pioneering female doctors. Readers of historical fiction will find Donati's richly detailed narrative both satisfying and thought-provoking.

New York Journal of Books
If there’s a flaw to be found, it lies in occasional 'laundry list' descriptions. These occur when scene settings change. In trying to keep her characters moving through the scene, the author sometimes streams many details of period-relevant items in the setting rather than building them into the actors’ choreography. Readers who enjoy building images in their minds while reading will relish such details. Readers who prefer a story to trot along more briskly might find their eyes glazing over in those moments. They are only moments, though, and trivial in the context of the full work. Overall, a big brava! to Sara Donati for giving us this novel.

Publishers Weekly
Elegant prose, entrancing era descriptions, and occasional bits of wit add to the impact. This is a riveting medical mystery.

Kirkus Reviews
Detectives, doctors, and dastardly scoundrels abound in this fascinating historical novel.

Library Journal
Donati's compelling prose explores ethnic and religious differences of the time. Readers will find themselves lost in late 19th-century New York City, from the orphanages to the practice of medicine and the court system. Storytelling so rich in detail it borders on minutiae may be a distraction for some readers. Despite a central theme based on a police investigation, this story should not be confused for a mystery. Give this to readers who care more about the journey than the destination.

Booklist (starred review)
Donati's saga of a New York family in the 1880s, with its exquisitely realized characters, is apt to inspire repeated readings...As she brings the sights, sounds, smells, and social mores of 1884 New York into sharp focus, Donati creates a timely tale of the past that illuminates the ongoing struggle for women's reproductive rights and sheds light on the passionate, centuries-long fight over abortion

Reader Reviews

Robin

Where the Light Enters
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the author's use of women who had strong feminist ideas at this time in history. Attitudes that were quiet new for that period of time. I would love to read a series based on the same characters and time periods. ...   Read More
CarolT

Oh, my...
Not only an enthralling story, but exceedingly well written. The second in a short series that is, itself an extension of an earlier series, Where the Light Enters stands alone very well. I'm ashamed to say I've not read Sara Donati before and will ...   Read More
J Young

Where the Light Enters
I enjoyed this book, it is a great follow up to the Gilded Hour, and can't wait to read the 3rd book! At 600 pages, I was at first dubious on how the author could keep me interested in it. But she explains on her blog, how she sometimes does go ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Forgotten Women Physicians of the 19th Century

The 19th century was a time of revolutionary changes in the areas of industrialism, democracy and the sciences, yet despite these radical shifts in society, the general public still viewed women as inherently less intelligent and less capable than men. Revered 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarked, "When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexual organs." Given this backdrop of sexist thinking, it's not surprising that many women had to fight to prove themselves worthy of professional titles. Perhaps one of the most notoriously difficult career choices a woman could make at that time was to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. Women had long been considered "morally unfit" to...

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