The Doctor and the Diva
August 2010 Indie Next List
— Beth Bower, Watermark Books, Wichita, KS
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It is 1903, and Erika von Kessler has struggled for years to become pregnant. Resigned to childlessness, Erika—a talented opera singer and the wife of a prominent Boston businessman—secretly plans to move to Italy to pursue her musical career. The charismatic Doctor Ravell is a rising fertility specialist. 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 Adrienne McDonnell’s own family history, The Doctor and the Diva moves from snowy Boston to the tropical forests of the Caribbean to the gilded balconies of Florence. It is searing historical fiction—a tale of opera, the indomitable power of romantic obsession, and a woman’s irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always yearned for and the artistic career she cannot live without. Fans of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank will be moved by this novel’s bittersweet beauty.
Praise For The Doctor and the Diva: A Novel…
—The Washington Post
“Desire has a dangerous side, a fact this sumptuous novel delights in . . . [An] explosive tale. Read the book now, then place bets on when the movie version will come out.”
“The tugs of work and family propel this engrossing tale.”
—Good Housekeeping (Book Pick)
“This amazing debut novel . . . is, quite simply, one of the best novels I’ve read all year.”
—The Historical Novels Review (Editor’s Choice)
“The Doctor and the Diva is so beautifully written and lushly set it was impossible for me to put down, and the characters continue to haunt me long after I turned the last page.”
—Sara Gruen, bestselling author of Water for Elephants and Ape House
“An incredibly moving tale of passion, regret, and ultimate triumph. I loved it. Adrienne McDonnell has created some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever met. A superb achievement.”
—Julie Garwood, bestselling author of Hotshot
Penguin Books, 9780143119302, 432pp.
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
During the time the novel was set, it was assumed that a problem conceiving meant that the woman had fertility problems. Why do you think that was the case? Medically speaking, has that changed over time? What about with society as a whole?
Is it easier on a child to have a parent die or have a parent willfully abandon them? Why? Does Peter make the right choice in having Erika’s father ask her to stop writing to her child? What are other ways he could have handled the situation?
Erika reflects, “If only I had been born without this voice. . . . It would have been simpler for everyone.” (218) What does she mean by this? What if pregnancy and childbearing had affected the quality of her voice? Do you think she would have been happier? Why or why not?
Does becoming a parent mean that one must give up on dreams? How could Erika have had both a career and been a good mother?
It takes a long while after Erika arrives in Italy for her to send Ravell a letter. Why do you think she waits so long to get in touch with him?
Erika remarks of her accompanist and his lover, “Two men, friends of hers, in love. How very peculiar that was—contrary to nature’s laws, for no child could ever be born to them.” (283) In what ways is her statement hypocritical?
If Erika’s first child had lived, how might things have unfolded differently?
When Ravell reveals that he was the child’s father, Erika replies, “I guess I’m glad you did it.” (387) Why do you think she says this?
Should Ravell have lost his practice due to his affair? Knowing that he helped so many couples conceive, could his indiscretion be overlooked? What about his actions in Erika’s first pregnancy? Could his actions ever be justified?
Similar to the question above, if Erika had become a world–class opera star, bringing joy to millions, could she be forgiven for abandoning her child? What if she had left him to find a cure for cancer or some other humanitarian goal? Can a mother ever justifiably leave her child?