Lazaretto: A Novel

Lazaretto: A Novel

by Diane McKinney-Whetstone


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Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s nationally bestselling novel, Tumbling, immersed us into Philadelphia’s black community during the Civil Rights era, and she returns to the city in this new historical novel about a cast of nineteenth-century characters whose colorful lives intersect at the legendary Lazaretto—America’s first quarantine hospital.

Isolated on an island where two rivers meet, the Lazaretto quarantine hospital is the first stop for immigrants who wish to begin new lives in Philadelphia. The Lazaretto’s black live-in staff forge a strong social community, and when one of them receives permission to get married on the island the mood is one of celebration, particularly since the white staff—save the opium-addicted doctor—are given leave for the weekend. On the eve of the ceremony, a gunshot rings out across the river. A white man has fired at a boat carrying the couple’s friends and family to the island, and the captain is injured. His life lies in the hands of Sylvia, the Lazaretto’s head nurse, who is shocked to realize she knows the patient.

Intertwined with the drama unfolding at the Lazaretto are the fates of orphan brothers. When one brother commits a crime to protect the other, he imperils both of their lives—and the consequences ultimately deliver both of them to the Lazaretto.

In this masterful work of historical fiction, Diane McKinney-Whetstone seamlessly transports us to Philadelphia in the aftermath of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination, beautifully evoking powerful stories of love, friendship and humanity amid the vibrant black community that flourished amid the troubled times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062126979
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 610,166
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

The author of the critically acclaimed novels Tumbling, Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Trading Dreams at Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award for Fiction, which she won twice. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. For more on Diane McKinney-Whetstone please visit or follow her on Twitter @Dianemckwh.

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Lazaretto: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
3.5 Stars rounded up Opening at Lincoln’s assassination, we meet Meda, a young black woman in labor and the midwife’s assistant, Sylvia, a young white woman. When the child is taken from Meda by the father, and he orders that she be told it was stillborn, Sylvie is shocked, and haunted. This sets the scene for these two women to present this story with their alternating points of view. What emerges is a series of studies and moments, interconnected by that night, for Meda and Sylvie. Small moments that show people living their lives, relaxing and toiling, mixed with other moments that graphically and poignantly presented struggles, prejudices and the many intrigues that were in play. I wanted more from Sylvie and Meda – their relationship as friends and more was certainly intriguing enough to warrant more words and pages, as well as a more satisfying conclusion to the more titillating moments. What I’m left with is moments of prose and description that are vivid and often poignant, darker scenes that highlight the dramatic divisions in the society - the black community with lives supported by and ruled by the existence of the Lazaretto Quarantine hospital, removed from the power brokers or even choices of self-determination are limited. There’s a sense of ‘different place, same issues’ that emerges for many of the characters we meet: the time for jubilant celebrations about the promise of freedom have quieted, and the reality of the attitudes haven’t changed for most of the people in power. A bit of unevenness in the plotting – moments of tension are easy to spot, and there were fewer moments where I truly wondered what would come next. What did work well was the insets of life, those quiet moments that allow characters to just be and exist. There were no moments of “it should have been” from the author, she’s presenting a story that gives readers the feeling of being in the moment, seeing the time and the people as they were with all of their scars and warts exposed, and allows an entry into a moment in time that will encourage thought. Not a perfect read, but engaging and intriguing even as I hoped for a few more pages and moments to truly give Sylvie and Meda the time they deserved. I received an eArc copy of title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ma McKenney prose and research weaves a perfect story. A great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Lazeretto. It took my breath away. Diane McKinney-Whetstone is an AMAZING writer. It's not many books that I read where I'm enjoying the story and learning the craft of writing at the same time. As I read Lazaretto I kept thinking….I wish I had written this book! A must read.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
In the aftermath of the American civil war, on the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, two women whose paths cross briefly, are inadvertently linked for years. At the start of the story, a young black woman named Meda is toiling to give birth. The midwife's assistant Sylvia is shocked when the baby's father, takes the baby away and orders her to tell Meda the was stillborn. The secret will haunt Sylvia for the rest of her life. As a means to ease her grief, Meda bonds with two boys, Linc and Bram who reside at a nearby orphanage. Told through these women's points of view, I was treated to a lush story of dark secrets, hardship, and abounding love. The larger than life characters drew me into the story, each adding a different aspect to this multi-layered story. Lovely prose, wonderfully vivid descriptions, and a darn good yarn made me flip the pages at a furious pace. A definite 5 star read! A great book for book clubs too! Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog,, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit