Alchemy’s Daughter – A Book Review

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Here’s to another great historical fiction book introduced to me by Italy Book Tours – Alchemy’s Daughter.  Mary A. Osborne successfully transported me back to Medieval Italy in this enjoyable novel about a young girl’s determination to follow her own dreams in a time when women were never expected to have a strong will.  Young Santina was a smart and intelligent girl living in San Gimignano when she fell in love with a scholar.  Their love was one of mutual respect for each other’s dreams, but these dreams also kept them apart.  Calandrino, the young scholar, was intent on deciphering ancient alchemical texts and left Santina alone in San Gimigniano while he went off in search of his quests.  Santina, not content to follow in the tradition of arranged marriages (of which hers was to be to a trade merchant whom she did not love), left her father’s home to search out her own fate.  Knowing that she desired to do more with her life than be a merchant’s wife, she sought out Trotula, the village midwife, and asked her to teach her the ways of midwifery and healing.  She soon became immersed in this world  – learning about medicinal herbs and delivering babies.  She was finding her destiny, but she was always looking for more.  Trotula cautioned her to go slowly and to think about the consequences of wanting too much.

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Plague, as well as superstitious beliefs relating to the healing arts, were all obstacles that challenged Santina and her destiny.  Faith in herself and her dreams kept her strong to persevere.  This story was a great reminder that whenever there is a will, a way will present itself if you only just believe.

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Author Mary A. Osborne discusses Italy, alchemy, the Middle Ages, and her new book, Alchemy’s Daughter.

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Q:  Your book is set in San Gimignano, Italy.  Have you been there? 

A:  Fourteen years ago, during a trip to Florence, Italy, I took a daytrip to the village of Certaldo, where the ancestral home of the medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio is located.  As I stood at the ancient brick wall surrounding Certaldo, I gazed out at the rolling Tuscan countryside and saw San Gimignano with its famous tall towers in the distance.  Although I never made it to this picturesque town, it became the setting for my new novel, Alchemy’s Daughter. 

Q:  Where did you get the idea to write a novel set in medieval Italy?

A:  Both Alchemy’s Daughter and my first book, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, took shape after I became fascinated with the subject of alchemy, which is the ancient science of turning lead into gold.  In medieval Europe, philosophers explored the hidden symbolism of alchemy, and the subject of alchemy seemed to better lend itself to a historical novel than to a contemporary novel.

Q:  What does alchemy have to do with the plot of Alchemy’s Daughter?

A: In both Alchemy’s Daughter and Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, you will find occasional excerpts from A Manual to the Science of Alchemy.  The Manual is a work that exists only in my imagination, and it contains esoteric, but useful information which serves to guide the heroines at various points along their journeys.

Q:  Do you have any favorite places to visit in Italy?

A: As a student at Knox College I became enamored with Renaissance Art history.  So I have a special love for the art museums of Florence, especially the Uffizi—which houses famous paintings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli—and the Bargello Museum, with its statues by Michelangelo and Donatello, among others.

Q:  You use some Italian words in Alchemy’s Daughter, and the book includes a glossary of Italian words. Can you speak the language?

A: I know very little Italian, but I made it a point to learn at least some basic words and phrases before I visited Italy. When writing Alchemy’s Daughter, I relied on an Italian-English dictionary, as well as my Italian language textbook for help with Italian phrases.

Q: Will your third book also be set in Italy?

A: I am still sketching out the plot for my third novel, but I think it will be set in 17th century London, during Isaac Newton’s time. So it seems a trip to England might be in order!

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