The Doctor and the Diva
This amazing debut novel, based on the lives of McDonnell’s son’s ancestors, begins in Boston in 1903, when the opera singer Erika and her wealthy husband Peter consult Dr. Ravell, an obstetrician who helps couples conceive. After years of marriage, they have not had a child. Dr. Ravell feels an immediate attraction to his beautiful patient and makes a terrible decision which would ruin his career if discovered. Later, after Erika gives birth to a stillborn daughter, Ravell is forced to leave Boston because of a scandal involving another patient and goes to live on a coconut plantation on Trinidad. Erika and Peter, who have not given up their hopes of having a living child, join him there, and, while Peter goes on an expedition to South America, Erika and Ravell have an affair, and she gives birth to a son. But there is one other thing Erika has always longed for: to have a career on the stages of the greatest opera houses in the world. At the time, this meant moving to Italy.
She makes the agonizing decision to abandon her child and move to Florence, but she feels tremendous guilt, especially when her career fails to take off. And, after several years, she has never forgotten her love for Ravell.
McDonnell makes the reader care about her complex characters and understand the reasons behind their decisions. Erika and Ravell are both faced with horrible dilemmas, and whether you agree with their choices or not, the author always lets you understand their motivations. The author also makes the settings come to life: the tropical island of Trinidad is described in loving detail, and McDonnell draws the reader into the operatic world of Italy. This is, quite simply, one of the best novels I’ve read all year.