Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Scribe of Siena

The Scribe of Siena is Melodie Winawer's first novel.  It takes place in Siena in the 1340s, before, during and after the Plague killed most of the residents. While there is some time travel involved, 90% of the story takes place in the 1340s.

Beatrice Trovato is a neurosurgeon in New York City.  Her brother Ben, a medieval researcher lives in a house in Siena where he is researching why Siena lost more people from the Plague than other European cities. After agreeing to visit him, Beatrice receives a letter in the mail from his attorneys advising that her brother has died and that she has inherited his estate, including his research notes.  They advise her that several local scholars would like to finish his research and write a book.  Beatrice travels to Siena and moves into his house.  She intends on finishing his research project.

While following up on his research notes, Beatrice finds a journal from a fresco painter of the era in a library.  She is fascinated by his life and finds within one of his paintings an image of her own face.  Beatrice falls asleep in a cathedral and when she wakes up she is still in the cathedral but 650 years before the 21st century.

Of course Beatrice finds people staring at her because she is improperly dressed for the time period.  After being charged with this crime a nun, Umilta, rescues her and takes her to the Opsedale where she will live and work.   Because Beatrice is literate, unusual for women of the era, she is allowed to work in the scriptorium as a scribe.  While taking a break one day she meets a fresco painter who is painting a fresco for the Opsedale.  He is Gabriele Accorsi, whose journal she had read.

As Beatrice tries to sort out how she traveled back in time and how to return to the 21st century, she continues to work as a scribe.  She worries about catching the Plague as she knows from history that it is about to be unleashed in Siena, but realizes that she is better suited to life in the 14th century than the 21st. She loves her new job and has friends, including Gabriele.

I loved this book. I was spellbound from the moment I began reading.  While I am not a fan of time traveling, most of this book was a medieval mystery.  I did enjoy, though, the present era where Beatrice was trying to figure out what her brother had discovered in his research. The beauty of Siena captivated me and I think that I am going to have to put this city on my travel bucket list. I want to see everything that Beatrice saw. This is a wonderful debut book for the author and is a must read.


  1. I also don't care for time traveling books (well, the Time Traveler's Wife was an exception), but this does sound interesting.

    1. This book will probably be on my top 10 books of the year list that I will post at the end of December.