The Nun by Simonetta Agnello Hornby
Well, just a few chapters into The Nun, I was reminded of one of perks of historical fiction: finding out new facts about different times & places (& sometimes things that are still true). The book opens in Messina in 1839 during the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After poking around a bit, I found out this annual religious procession still takes place in Messina; there are various photos & videos posted online. The machine used in the procession is a huge, pyramid shaped creation that includes rotating parts depicting the sun, moon, and various angels. During the time of The Nun, apparently real infants were used to portray the angels -- seven or eight hours in the hot sun, rotating high above street level....Of course, these days, infants are no longer used and statues are in place instead. This is just one of the neat history tidbits I've picked up from this book. If you are interested, here are a few links that show what I'm referencing:
Do you find yourself researching things (photos, maps, videos,...) when reading historical fiction? If so, this lovely novel will be a delight for you with its meticulously-researched historical details. The book moves at a languid, meditative pace (completely in keeping with the ideas of nuns & monastic orders). Each piece of the story is like a shard of colored glass – a beautiful, intricate detail (of life in a convent, of life in an Italian town in the mid-1800s, of life in Italy during times of turmoil) that meshes & unfolds with other pieces to create a kaleidoscopic view of a small window in history. I think the setting & the period details are the stars of the story. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction.