The Greenest Branch: A Novel of Germany’s First Female Physician (Hildegard of Bingen)
This is a well-written, impressive imagining of the early years of Hildegard von Bermersheim, later von Bingen, about whose formative years as a young nun very little is known. While P.K. Adams takes full advantage of this to freely imagine the challenges Hildegard was confronted with and the choices she had to make, her suppositions are firmly grounded in a well-researched medieval world, referencing the ongoing conflicts between the Empire and the Papacy, the different movements in the monastic world, and the situation of women forced to choose between ‘Eve’s lot’ (i.e., child-bearing) or monastic chastity in a patriarchal society. This is all described without any hint of presentism, which makes it easy for readers to immerse themselves in this world.
I enjoyed the lyrical descriptions of the Rhineland landscape, but Ms Adams does not ignore the sometimes desperate situation of its inhabitants—this world is no superficial picture-postcard, but has real depth. The Greenest Branch sheds light on a little-known time and place and, although not a mystery story, has much that will appeal to lovers of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael. It brings to life one of the greatest women of the Middle Ages whose thoughts and music still speak to us today. The tone of the first-person narrative by an older Hildegard is more contemplative than passionate and includes the occasional hint at future renown. I look forward to reading the conclusion of Hildegard’s story as told by Ms Adams.