01 April 2012

The Book Of Madness And Cures, Book review


Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a single minded passion for the art of physic, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella's own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues--beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases.

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him--a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows
the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

My personal thoughts:

How to describe this brilliant description of a 16th Century Venetian woman who happens to be a doctor? I have just finished reading Regina O'Melveny's intriguing debut in fiction writing and find myself at a loss for words!

There is earthly appeal in Gabriella Mondini, this unusual young woman who yearns to practice medicine at an epoch where women of similar social status were rarely seen even out of the home. 
The human body study during the Renaissance was a fascinating subject, involving much debates in universities and physicians homes and often criticism (even persecution) as it involved the need for specimens. 

The idea of a wealthy 16th Century Venetian woman, a full fledged physician forbidden to practice because of her sex, willing to leave the comforts of home in search of the father she has not heard of in ten years, solely armed with a medicine chest and accompanied by two loyal servants to venture into terra ignota captivates the imagination.

My ARC copy galvanized me to experience this intriguing book fully (I dropped everything else) and I can tell you I was mesmerized by the author's readers address . To be introduced to Regina's inspiration whilst she penned this novel was in itself a rare opportunity to understand the concept behind the story and I recommend readers to check it out before starting the first chapter!

Gabriella's journey to find her missing father will see her crossing Europe, taking her from Venice to lake Costentz, Leiden, Edenburg and to Algezer, Africa. 
With infinite care Regina O'Melveny allows readers to visualize a world we have only perceived through the accounts of merchants such as Marco Polo. She does not loose readers in tedious details, allowing readers to fully concentrate on the protagonists.

Gabriella does not follow the well trodden commerce road we know as the Spice route. Instead she uses cues taken from cherished letters, some many years old, to find the man she calls Father, also a physician.
Perhaps most appealing of all are the medical lore and excerpts of the book of Diseases Gabriella strives to compile, with her father's notes as well as her observations. These are at times remarkably accurate, others will leave you chilled or perhaps bring a chuckle.

As we follow her footsteps to discover the whereabouts of her father we begin to grasp Gabriella's hope and despair, and her determination to find the reason for her father's long absence. Despite misgivings and losses she continues her journey.

One might observe that Regina intuitively knew how to describe the vivid details of this compelling story thanks to her own upbringing.
'...It began with a small cloth journal decorated with volutes of red roses, sent to me when I was ten by my Italian grandmother, whom I’d never met. It had a lock...' My favourite of all her quotes!

In the end, this is a story to be experienced with an open mind, not unlike a cup of tisane, made of newly gathered herbs from a sunny spot of one's garden. Each sip brings you a different taste...
Imagination will be your constant companion!

Excellent and well worth 5 stars! 

The Book of Madness and Cures will be on sale starting the 10th of April 2012!

To read an except, visit website (here).

About the author:

A writer, teacher and award winning poet, Regina O'Melveny is full of imagination and definitively an interesting person.
To learn more about her (and read some of her poetry) please visit her website (here).

I received this ARC free from the HACHETTE GROUP as part of their blogger review program.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 'Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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