The Doctor and the Diva: A Novel

The Doctor and the Diva: A Novel

by Adrienne McDonnell


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143119302
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.94(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley. The Doctor and the Diva is based in part on the true story of her son’s great-great grandmother. McDonnell was inspired by hundreds of pages of family letters and memories of elderly relatives, long haunted by the story. Chosen by the American Booksellers Association as an Indie Next Notable Book, rights to the The Doctor and the Diva have sold in ten countries. McDonnell lives near San Francisco. The Doctor and the Diva is her first novel.

What People are Saying About This

Lauren Belfer

Filled with frank sexuality and astonishing emotional intimacy, The Doctor And The Diva pulls you in and doesn't let go. This haunting and heartbreaking novel flows seamlessly from the medical consulting rooms of Boston to the opera stages of Italy and to the lush plantations of the Caribbean, sweeping you into a riveting story of complex individuals struggling with multi-layered passions and unflagging dreams. (Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light and A Fierce Radiance)

Margot Livesey

Adrienne McDonnell has created a wonderful portrait of a talented and ambitious woman who also aspires to be a wife, a mother and a lover. From the moment we first meet Erika von Kessler, singing beside her uncle's grave, she casts a spell and one of the deep satisfactions of this richly imagined novel is that both her lover and her husband prove worthy of her. The Doctor And The Diva is an irresistible debut. (Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street)

Julie Garwood

The Doctor And The Diva is 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 Sizzle and Fire and Ice)

Andrea Barrett

Love, the longing for family, the demands of art—in Adrienne McDonnell's absorbing debut, the life of a tempestuous diva struggling to reconcile conflicting desires itself becomes a kind of opera. (Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Air We Breathe)

Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Doctor And The Diva, based on old family letters, takes us on a fascinating journey into the hearts and minds of a woman and a man who commit the unthinkable. Brace yourself for the vortex of their deftly drawn lives. (Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Day the Falls Stood Still)

From the Publisher

“Some novels just naturally enslave you, and this is one of them. . . . Serious and gripping . . . [a] brilliant debut 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

Gail Godwin

Great storytelling and a very modern heroine—who just happens to be living in an era when women didn't dare admit to wanting it all, much less expect to get it. The Doctor And The Diva has the makings of a big success. (Gail Godwin, author of Unfinished Desires and A Mother and Two Daughters)

Anne Bernays

It's very refreshing to read a serious novel whose author had been anointed with the gift of genuine story-telling. Adrienne McDonnell's The Doctor And The Diva takes her readers into strange and forbidden places, exotic countries and, best of all, the territory of the heart at its most naked and terrifying. (Anne Bernays, author of Trophy House)

Jill McCorkle

I don't know when I have been so completely entranced and held spellbound by a novel. The Doctor And The Diva is a brilliant, beautifully written story about the passions—career, romance, parenthood—that both unite and destroy lives. McDonnell is a masterful storyteller and an astute historian. This is a major accomplishment and marks the debut of a tremendous talent. (Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes)

Sara Gruen

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 the forthcoming Ape House)

Reading Group Guide


From the frozen streets of Boston to the tropical forests of Trinidad and the opera houses of Italy, The Doctor and the Diva is a heartbreaking and mesmerizing journey that reveals the power of love and longing and the undeniably human quest for even a tiny piece of immortality.

As a renowned and respected young obstetrician in early twentieth–century New England, Doctor Ravell uses scientifically advanced techniques to help couples conceive children. Ravell lives for his work, and apart from one playful entanglement with a much older woman, he follows an almost monastic existence. He is careful to assume a supportive yet detached role in his patients' lives. Then he meets Erika von Kessler, the wife of a wealthy businessman and daughter of a prominent family of doctors.

With her elegant presence and her soaring mezzo–soprano voice, Erika seems like a woman with everything. But even after years of trying, she has not become pregnant with the child her husband, Peter, so desperately wants. In the past she and her husband have consulted other fertility specialists without success, but she reluctantly agrees to see Doctor Ravell. Convinced that the outcome with this new doctor will be no better, she has been secretly planning to leave her husband and move to Italy to fulfill her dreams of expanding her opera career. In Florence she hopes to dedicate herself to her music and make a name for herself, undisturbed by the ghosts of children she can never have.

But Erika has no idea that Doctor Ravell is treating her case differently than any other in his career. Though she has not informed him of her plans, he senses her despair and desperation, and he worries that she may harm herself or take her own life. He makes a stunning decision, one that could end his medical career.

After a series of unexpected dramas, the story moves to the Caribbean, where the characters' lives converge on a coconut plantation that is wild and lush, its beaches washed by the thundering Atlantic. Eventually, it is Erika who must make a choice that will have a drastic effect on many lives. She could endure her marriage and devote herself to the son she struggled to bear. Or she could do something few mothers would ever consider: abandon her child to realize her talent and follow her dreams.



Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives near San Francisco in a house overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.



The Doctor and the Diva is based on actual events in your family. Did the connection to actual relatives make the story easier or more difficult to write? Which characters came easier for you, the ones based on actual people or the ones who were purely fictional?

The ancestors who gave rise to my characters lived a century ago. By the time I married into my first husband's family, they'd taken on a kind of legendary air. "Erika" and "Peter" had lived in such bold and colorful ways that people in the family—especially the older women—liked to talk and speculate about them.

In my early twenties, as I walked past Erika's childhood home in Boston's Back Bay on my way to work, I'd pause and stare up at the windows and wonder about her. Before I ever had a child, I felt kinship to her in a primal way, knowing that my descendants would be her descendants. The family connection was deeply inspirational, and having hundreds of pages of family letters was a blessing and a gift.

But despite all the research I'd done, no record existed about certain key moments in Erika's life. For example, there's the scene in which Erika tells her little boy that she'll be leaving him behind and moving to Italy to develop her singing career. From his childhood letters, it's obvious that he was left with the impression that she'd eventually return. The letters show that as the months went by, he felt forlorn and frustrated by his father's evasive answers about when "Mama" would be coming back. But the private conversation between the departing mother and her little boy? That was something I had to "overhear" in my imagination.

I never felt a big difference between the "real" versus the "invented" characters, or felt that creating one was more difficult or easier than the other, because even the "actual" characters also had to be imagined to an extent. Writing this novel was a process of reaching beyond what was known, into the realm of what could have occurred.

Let me also say that there's something liberating in writing a novel about people who lived a century ago. By the time I began the novel, they'd long been dead. So that allowed me to write with a certain abandon and emotional honesty. I didn't have to worry about the possibility of offending them, or their own children and even grandchildren.

Did you ever consider writing this story as nonfiction?

Never. My goal was to make art from their lives and to invent the most interesting story I could. Fiction allowed me to dramatize and tell the story with great intimacy.

Biographers will tell you that even if you have access to a large archive of a certain person's correspondence or interviews or whatever—there will still be gaps, unknowable aspects of a person's life. Fiction lets you lift the veil and see the scenes that might have taken place. Bedroom scenes, for example, are rarely to be found in family letters.

When the story was passed down in your family, were there some who approved of your ancestor's decision while some were more critical? Did you learn anything unexpected about your family, in addition to the story that inspired this book?

"Erika" died in her fifties, several years before her son got married. She and her son's wife never met. But to Quentin's wife—the woman who stayed by his side and loved him for fifty years—the notion of his mother having deserted him seemed unforgivable. Quentin's wife held a negative view of Erika.

On the other hand, Quentin showed a certain pride about his mother. On top of the Steinway piano in his living room, he always kept a framed photograph of his mother dressed in her operatic regalia.

Did anything in your research into obstetrics and fertility treatments of the time surprise you?

When I first learned that physicians were performing artificial inseminations as far back as the 1890s, I was astounded. Like most people, I'd always assumed these were a modern phenomenon, but as you can see from the novel's addendum, "A Further Historical Note," physician–assisted inseminations go back centuries.

Who are some of your major literary influences? Are there authors or books you turn to often?

I'll name just three novels, all by French authors. All are deep psychological explorations. All contain literary love stories.

Flaubert's Madame Bovary is one of my favorites. My love for the book is partly personal. My high school French teacher, a woman born and raised in Grenoble, taught us to analyze literature by dissecting Flaubert's prose sentence by sentence, one passage at a time. She explained that Flaubert would labor for an entire day to perfect a single paragraph. Madame Bovaryprovided my first experience of diving deep under the surface to see how a novel was crafted, and noticing how each rhythmic phrase or metaphor belonged to the wondrous sea of the novel.

The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, is another novel that awes me. When the author was a fifteen–year–old girl living in Indochina, she had an affair with an older Chinese man. All her adult life, she kept returning to that experience, writing about it again and again in different ways. Only in her seventies, during a white–heat fever of creativity that lasted four months, did she find the most powerful rendering of that material. The result was The Lover.

Suite Française by Irene Némirovsky, is another masterpiece. During the Second World War, as the Nazis invaded Paris, the author and her —like so many French people—were forced to flee into the countryside. Némirovsky observed the chaos and panic affecting the gamut of characters, and she captured it with luminous humanity. In the midst of havoc and personal danger, she wrote about the German occupation with unsparing candor, detachment, wisdom, and irony. She completed this last work shortly before the Nazis arrested her and sent her to a concentration camp, where she died.

In the book, Quentin writes heartbreaking letters to his mother. How similar are those letters to the ones your relatives shared with you, the correspondence written by the '"real" Erika's son?

Very similar. Though I never quoted from the actual letters, I tried to retain his boyish diction and misspellings, as well as his preoccupations. The angst of a little boy sitting by a boarding school parlor window, waiting for a father who never shows up for a Sunday visit…his longing for a mother who goes away, and whose date of return is left unclear…all of that can be felt in the actual letters.

In the book, Quentin forms an attachment to a surrogate mother. He writes long and affectionate letters to her, and is anxious to please her. That's clearly what happened; it's reflected in the real–life correspondence.

Music plays a huge role in this novel. Are you an opera fan yourself? What are some of your favorite pieces?

I knew nothing about opera until I wrote an early draft of the novel twenty years ago. Researching the roles that a mezzo–soprano would have sung, hearing gorgeous arias—that was an inspiring task, and it led to many joyous discoveries.

Many of my favorites arias have found their way into the novel; Erika sings a number of them. I love attending recitals of individual singers. While I'm cooking, I listen constantly to opera. As I was writing The Doctor and the Diva, I'd put down my paring knife when I heard a particularly evocative aria. I'd jot down a few notes and ask myself: "At what point in the novel could Erika sing this?" It was like devising my own musical score.

For anyone new to opera and curious about it I'd recommend listening to three famous and beloved works by Mozart: Don Giovanni or Cosi fan tutte or Le nozze di Figaro. Handel arias are also dazzling, especially compilations sung by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, or Angelika Kirschlager, or Sandrine Piau.

What are your personal feelings about the ancestor on which this story is based, Alice Wesselhoeft Haserick? What do you think of her decision?

Obviously, her decision fascinates me, and that's why I wrote the novel. Part of me wants to applaud her courage and devotion to her art; another part of me wants to ask her: "How could you have done such a heartrending thing to your son?"

What interests me as a fiction writer is not to hammer down a gavel like a judge and to declare one person "evil" and another person "good." In literature, people are fascinating because they are complex. As a writer, I'm intrigued by the challenge of transcending my own biases and my own life. Several characters in The Doctor and the Diva commit unthinkable acts—they decide to do things that most people might immediately regard as immoral. In each case, I've tried to enter that character's consciousness and situation with enough empathy that their behavior might—at least to some degree—seem understandable.

What are you working on presently?

It's a historical novel that's going to entail immense research. My next project may spur me to do some traveling, but I won't say more than that.


  • 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?

  • 8. 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?
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    The Doctor and the Diva 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What a great read - such an amazing story. It is so well written. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it!!
    ParadigmTree on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    The Doctor and the Diva is a lushly written novel that explores the relationship between a doctor who specializes in fertility treatments, and a husband and wife who come to him for help concieving a child.While, I found the book to be well written, I am a bit unsure as to how I feel about it. On the one hand, I loved the details of the settings and time period that the author works into the narrative. I had perfect pictures in my mind of the streets of Boston or the plantation in Trinidad. I also liked the details about the fertility treatments of the time. Its fascinating to know about the "modern" origins of that form of medical treatment. The delicacy that doctors had to use when addressing the husband's role was unsurprising, but amusing.However, I found I had difficulty connecting with any of the characters. Erika seemed very distant and it was difficult to form a picture of her character. Peter, her husband, was always described as "childlike" in his manner and behaviour and it was difficult to feel sympathy towards him. Doctor Ravell was the most interesting of the three, but again I found it difficult to feel a connection towards him.Overall, I would say this is a well written story, however it missing something to make me connect with it on a more emotional level
    khager on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Peter and his wife, Erika, are desperate for a baby. They've been trying for years, but no luck. They meet Ravell, a doctor who's had a great deal of luck with couples that have problems conceiving.Erika is also training to be an opera singer. Shortly after they begin fertility treatments (and although it's the early 1900s, they use a lot of the same treatments we use today--artificial insemination and in vitro--apparently they've been used for a long time, just not talked about), she realizes that she's sort of torn about being a mother. On the one hand, she'd like to have a child, but on the other, she wants to be an opera singer. The two would be hard to blend now, but in 1903, they'd be just about impossible to mesh.It's best if that's all you know heading into this novel. One of the things I love about historical fiction is that it gives me a glimpse into a world that's completely foreign to me, yet shows that things haven't changed all that much. For example, obviously, I don't know what it's like to wear a corset or to feel like if I were to have a baby, I'd have to give up my dreams. But I do know the feeling of knowing that I won't be able to do everything perfectly. You can't have two full-time jobs and do both to the absolute 100% of your abilities 100% of the time. A lot of people will probably condemn Erika for the choices she makes, but I completely understood. It helps that McDonnell makes her an incredibly sympathetic character (even as she makes mistakes over and over) so that you can't help but want her to achieve her dream of becoming a famous opera singer in Italy.This is Adrienne McDonnell's first novel and I hope there are many more to come. I can't wait to see what other worlds she creates.
    thecaptivereader on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    While the story itself should be intriguing, I found the execution clumsy and was distracted by the many details and comments which felt jarring given the historical context. I can hardly imagine a gentleman in 1903 couching his refusal to adopt by saying ¿I admire people who do it.¿ Just one of many instances where it felt like the author¿s 21st Century attitudes infringed on the spirit of the story. And a male lead named Ravell, in a novel consumed by music? It felt heavy-handed and had me cringing right from the first sentence. As a music lover, particularly of opera, it was difficult to excuse errors with the musical selections, some of which were shockingly unsuited to the time period (though the author does acknowledge that her choice of Vivaldi was motivated more by personal tastes than by historical accuracy). In the end, I found the want of subtlety too frustrating and so abandoned the book without finishing.
    writestuff on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Erika von Kessler comes from a family of renowned Boston physicians. She has married a wealthy man, but longs to expand her talents as an opera singer to the stages of Italy. Erika¿s husband Peter, however, longs for a child and will stop at nothing to be ensured of an heir. After years of infertility, the couple turns to Doctor Ravell, a young Harvard educated physician whose star is rising in the field of gynecology¿specifically in helping couples to conceive. Beginning in 1903 and spanning nearly a decade, The Doctor and The Diva is about a woman who ultimately must choose between her career as an opera singer and her life as a wife and mother.Adrienne McDonnell was inspired to write her first novel based on the true life of her son¿s paternal great-great-grandmother who deserted her prominent Boston husband in order to further her operatic career in Italy. McDonnell has carefully researched the medical history of infertility treatment (I was amazed to learn that artificial insemination had been practiced as early as 1785 in Scotland). By the mid-nineteenth century, cutting edge doctors were beginning to recognize the the failure to conceive could not always be blamed on the woman ¿ a point which becomes crucial in the plot for this novel. McDonnell artfully weaves all these facts into a spellbinding story that takes the reader from Boston to the coconut plantations of the Caribbean to the splendor of Florence, Italy.Although there is a hefty dose of romance mixed into this historical novel, the character of Erika represents the strong-minded, intelligent women whose desire to pursue their careers over motherhood placed them on the edge of societal acceptance. It was the exploration of women¿s rights which captured my imagination in the novel above all else.The Doctor and the Diva is an exquisitely crafted story about one woman¿s quest to pursue her art, about the barriers which women in the 1900¿s faced when deciding to follow their dreams, and about the conflicting emotions when a woman wants it all (spouse, children and career) at a time when societal expectations were quite rigid. This is also an excellent look at medical practice in the field of obstetrics and gynecology during the early part of the twentieth century. McDonnell poses some interesting moral dilemmas which Doctor Ravell faces¿and the way in which he resolves them would make for great discussion in a book group.I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful book. Readers who love historical fiction and are interested in women¿s issues during the 1900¿s will want to read this novel.Recommended.
    zibilee on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Living in Boston in 1906, Erica Von Kessler has high hopes of being an opera star. Her husband, Peter, has a differing opinion of Erica's career choice and is constantly herding her from one doctor to another in hopes of having their fertility issues resolved. When Erica and Peter engage the services of Dr. Ravell, Peter is very hopeful that Ravell's incredible advancements in the field will solve their problem once and for all. But Erica is far from being hopeful and it's her despondency over her infertility that prompts Dr. Ravell to make an extreme decision that will drastically alter all three of their lives forever. After the fateful decision of Dr. Ravell fails to bear fruit, Erica and Peter begin to grow apart and they once again rely upon the doctor to help them conceive a child together. When Erica's dreams of being an opera star begin to come to fruition, Peter, Ravell and Erica step into a dance of secrecy, deceit, and complicity that weave them together more tightly than any natural bond could ever hope to. Part historical drama and part love story, The Doctor and the Diva explores the conflicting desires of two men and one woman whose dream of the perfect child might just be their downfall.I had serious reservations about this book stemming mainly from the feelings the title gave me. Knowing nothing other than the title, I had expected this book to be more of a bodice-ripper rather than any type of serious piece of literature. What I found was actually very surprising, because McDonnell's skill brought forth a lot of sensitive issues and imbued them with a relevance and resonance that I found to be not only abundantly entertaining, but also very provocative and thoughtful.The situation early in the book between Erica and her husband was rather alarming. Erica's sole ambition is to become an opera singer and she was born with a voice to give this dream power. But Peter won't hear of Erica doing anything other than preparing herself to bear his offspring and forces her to consult with doctor after doctor in order to fulfill his desires. I was sad for Erica and felt that Peter was taking her dreams from her with his ceaseless badgering. The book made me feel a little angry at the realization that during this period in history, a woman existed solely to fulfill the desires of her husband and not much else. I grew apprehensive that Peter would end up controlling Erica's life and that her chance to sing would be extinguished. I didn't want Erica to get pregnant, because by doing so, she would be feeding Peter's ambition to control her life, and I felt that Erica didn't deserve that.When Peter and Erica meet Ravell, things begin to change. Far from being a proponent of Peter's ideas, he sees a side of Erica that no one else seems to. When he questions her about her desire to have a child, she admits that it's something that she wants but it's not the only thing, and that because she has been repeatedly thwarted in her efforts, she has now become focused on the opera. When Ravell makes his decision to do the impossible for Erica and Peter, he sets into motion a series of events that are irrevocable and intense. He will give Erica what she wants, in every sense, but to do this, he must not only deceive her, he must also pay the price for his actions. As Peter and Erica's lives begin to move in harmony, Ravell's begins to fall apart, and it's arguable whether this is Ravell's due.After a time, the three cross paths again, yet everything about them and their situations has changed. Curiously, Ravell remains dogged in efforts to please them both, though they both want very different things. In this respect, Ravell reveals his selflessness and altruism, but one can see that his motives are not always pure. As Ravell moves in and out of the couple's lives, he gives and takes in equal measure, and though Peter and Erica make their own choices, it's easy to see Ravell's hand in everything they do. These characters are all very in
    Gerri007 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Do not be deterred by the cover from reading this debut romance novel set in 1903. It is much more than a simple romance book and tells the story of a woman who after years of infertility, finds herself pregnant with the longed for child and her life changed forever by the doctor who made this miracle possible.The details of infertility treatment in 1903 prove very interesting. After the baby's arrival she finds her desire to pursue a career as an opera singer is stll strong & struggles with the ramifications of leaving her husband & child in England for opera training in Italy. The story is told in beautiful detail not only from the woman's point of view but also that of the doctor & the child. I was quickly caught me up in the story and found the book hard to put down until all 432 pages were read. The Doctor and The Diva was an easy and enjoyable read. I would definately recommend it to other female readers.
    Yells on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I was quite impressed by this first effort by McDonnell. The title is quite misleading because it's not really a romance novel at all. Instead, it is at first, a fascinating look at fertility at the turn of the century and the prevailing notion that it must always be the female's fault. It is also, or at least it starts out to be, a dangerous love triangle between the doctor, the diva and the husband. The first half had me riveted but I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. It was a book that didn't really need to have everything all tied up nicely into a Hollywood ending and so I felt that McDonnell took the easy way out. I hope next time, she is willing take some chances and break the rules a little. There are so many ways this book could have gone and it would have been as good if not better.
    Myckyee on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Happily, I liked this book much more than I thought I would. What put me off was the cover and the title but I requested it through LTER anyway because of the book's description.This book is well-written and easy to read. I got caught up in the story quickly and my interest was held throughout. The author did a great job in building tension and leading the reader smoothly through the story. I mostly liked the characters; again the author did a great job in evoking feelings of empathy for some of them. I also felt a good degree of squeamishness when reading about the main character's experiences in her effort to become pregnant.This was definitely a good read and despite the title (which reminds me of some sort of lurid romance novel and, I think, detracts from the main characters) was well worth my reading time.
    Iudita on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    This story takes place in the early 1900's and is about the complicated and unusual relationship between a woman, her husband and her fertility doctor. The woman, named Erika is an up and coming opera singer. She originally feels desperate to have children, but after some time and countless medical procedures, she accepts that she will remain without children and she throws her energy and passion into her career. Her husband Peter has not begun to give up hope and continues to drag her from one appoitment to another. They meet Ravell who is a doctor in Boston that has had great success with fertility work. Erika and Peter develop a friendship with Ravell, both as a couple and as individuals. The shifts and changes in their relationships occur over a period of many years and takes the story to the plantations of Trinidad and the opera houses of Italy. Although I didn't always like Erika, I did find her personal journey to be interesting and engaging. I also thought the author did a great job with the settings. I have a vivid picture in my head of both the plantation and the various settings in Italy. I did enjoy this book and have only one critisism. I think the title is just awful. It reminds me of some mass publication romance paperback and really misrepresents the quality of the good story that it is.
    bhowell on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    The Doctor and the Diva is an easy and entertaining read taking place between 1903 and 1914. Erica leaves her husband and son behind in Boston to pursue an opera career in Italy. This is a romance novel and if it is a little breathy and unrealistic from time to time most readers will forgive that. Erica and her wealthy Boston husband, Peter, desperately want a child and they seek medical assistance from Dr Ravell, a prominent Harvard -educated obstetrician. Dr Ravell is building his career and he too longs to satisfy the couple's yearning for a child. The three of them become very close friends, a dangerous love triangle that will change all of their lives. And Dr Ravell makes a difficult and dangerous decision to help Peter and Erica gain their heart's desire.The book is a good summer escapist read and while far from brilliant or literary , it succeeds as an interesting story. Enjoy
    Romonko on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Although this type of book is not my chosen genre, I read it because I was asked to do an early review on it. This is a debut novel for Ms. McDonnell and she has great writing talents. The book is about one woman¿s obsession with her divine singing voice and the burden that it places on her to pursue an operatic career. It is set in the early 20 th century (1903 ¿ 1914). The story takes place in Boston, in Trinidad and in Florence, Italy. The novel has a majestic scope and it is an ambitious project . Ms. McDonnell delivers. Her characters are real and you feel their love, pain and obsessions. There is a lot about singing and opera in the book, but that adds to the authenticity. It is obvious that Ms. McDonnell is familiar with that world. It was inspiring to me to see how this one woman sacrificed everything to follow a dream.
    pak6th on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    A talented young woman, Erika von Kessler is torn between wanting a child and a career as an opera singer. Her husband desires only the child and when they have difficult conceiving, consult many doctors. Finally Dr. Ravell helps them but in an unconventional way which puts him firmly in the lives of Erika and her husband. Set in pre-WW I the plot moves between New York, Trindad and Italy. Ordinary tale and the most interesting parts are the fertility problem and role of the physician and the process of becoming an opera singer. Ending is more realistic than romantic.
    lkernagh on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    This book has a subtle elegance to it. The story, covering an 11 year time period from 1903 to 1914, follows the lives of two main characters: Erika Myrick, a woman from a prominant Boston medical family with career ambitions of becoming a renowned mezzo-soprano opera singer, and Doctor Ravell, a younger Harvard-educated obstetrician. Erika and her husband Peter approach Doctor Ravell, through Erika's family connections, in the hope that Ravell may be the doctor that will help them conceive a child. In the process, Ravell and Erika each come to face difficult choices for their careers and their futures.Fertility treatment specialist isn't a term that was widely used over 100 years ago, even though amazing medical breakthroughs in this field pre-date the start of the 20th century so I found the substance of the medical background in the story quite fascinating to read. The story vividly captures Boston society, the cosmopolitan nature of Italy and the lush plantation life of Trinidad of the time period. Unfortunately, I found the characters rather two-dimensional and wooden in their emotional delivery, which made the story drag at times. The story may appeal to individuals that enjoy stories with operatic backgrounds or involve historical travels to exotic places.Overall, not bad for a debut novel.
    tututhefirst on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I really wanted to like this book much more than I ended up doing. It was well-written, the story is compelling, the settings are all ones I'm familiar with and enjoy. But the characters ended up being ones I disliked intensely, and it's hard to explain why without giving away the entire story. Supposedly based on real people who are relatives of the author's son--the relationship was difficult to follow in her acknowledgments--the story of opera, gynecology, infertility treatment, and women's rights to a career and motherhood was one that McDonnell handled well. I just didn't like the people, the choices they made, or the consequences of their actions. That doesn't mean it wasn't a good book. It was. The story just left me very depressed-- or as my granddaughter is wont to say "Too bad, so sad."Essentially Erika wants to be an opera singer. She is the daughter of a doctor, she is well educated, and for a well-bred woman of her social position living in the early 20th century in Boston, she has a great deal of personal freedom. Her husband Peter appears to adore her. He wants a baby badly, more we think to cement his image as the great provider and macho man, than because he has any great paternal instincts. Erika wants a baby because it will please Peter. At least they share a great sexual attraction, and the author often provides us much evidence of that side of the relationship.Enter Dr. Ravell (do we ever learn his full name?), a new age gynecologist the couple consults to help with their inability to conceive. Apparently artificial insemination was being practiced in the early 1900's and no one talked about it. This was especially convenient since Peter (the husband) had a tendency to wander to exotic places as he pursued his 'business affairs' leaving Erika in the capable hands of the good doctor to be impregnated during his absence.As the years pass, Erika has to deal with her increasing desire to go to Italy to study opera and become famous with her waxing/waning desire to have a child. I won't say why, but Ravell leaves town to run a coconut plantation in Trinidad, and the von Kesslers go for a visit to continue treatments (as far as Peter is concerned). Eventually Erika makes a heart-breaking decision to abandon Peter and her child to go to Florence to live a life of penury while pursuing her career. Yes they have a child, but I'll the details for the reader to discover.We are supposed to feel sorry for her having to leave her child behind. The child is the one who is truly abandoned because the mother is in Italy and the father is still gallivanting around the world. There is what is supposed to be a 'happily ever after' ending but perhaps because the choices are different than those I would have made, I don't see them as happy. It is a good book. It is a great read - even with an excess of details and choices that beg belief--it is a novel that will leap onto book discussion lists for several years. There's a lot to toss back and forth. These are characters that many will champion and others will vilify. Nobody will read the book and come away without an opinion.
    hollysing on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    "I Swear, I Will Win"¿Lo giurai, la vincero.¿ Mezzo soprano Erika von Kessler sings these words in an Italian opera aria while fulfilling her dream of a stage career toward the end of this book. It is 1903. Women had babies and raised families. Some women opted for careers in the arts. Erika wants both and will do what is necessary to ¿win¿. Ms. McDonnell¿s debut novel stems from letters collected by her family about an ancestor pursuing an operatic career. Although the author writes passionately about a singer¿s struggle to balance career and family, I found a steady downward spiral in the credibility of her three main characters. I was impressed with the author¿s substantive knowledge of fertility practices at the time but grew weary of the salient detail of such and the endless parade of lovemaking scenes. I wanted to like this book because I am a singer, but I found the novel predictable and its characters left me cold.Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
    StacieRosePittard More than 1 year ago
    I expected a little more than I got from this book. Overall the story was decent if you're looking for a good drama. The love triangles and turn of events were extremely unique, though I felt the story get a little slow in some areas. I was looking forward to learning more about the history of obstetrics. The original description of the novel made it seem like that would be the main focus of the story. Instead there was only a little bit of obstetric history, and a great deal more about the "diva's" story (which was less interesting in my opinion). Regardless of whether or not you finish the book once you start, my advice is to at least read the historical note in the back. Those last couple of pages were the most interesting, even if they were not part of the story. Overall, I'm not sorry I read the book. I did enjoy the time I spent with it, even if it wasn't what I expected.
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    Redmary More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the story, but didn't like the ending. I am glad I read it, but the end fizzled for me. Check it out, maybe it was just me!
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    Margaret Jessop More than 1 year ago
    Such a beautiful book. Just sucks you in.
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