From My Bookshelf: The Scribe of Siena

By Lynn Willoughby

The Scribe of Siena ~ Melodie Winawer

When a New York neurosurgeon finds herself in fourteenth century Siena, she is glad her brother, Ben, made her learn Italian.  He has just died – leaving his home in Siena, his historical research and all his papers to Beatrice.  As she moves into his home and begins reading, she discovers a persistent historical mystery.  Besides rats, fleas and the bubonic plague – why did Siena never recover its historical  significance in 1348?  As she sifts through archive, frescoes and art – she finds herself in 1347 Siena!

Beatrice’s clothes are all wrong and she narrowly escapes the Wardrobe Police, but she enjoys the food and as she is literate – unusual for women at that time, she finds herself a job as a scribe in Siena’s Ospedale – equivalent to a hospltal/monastery/poorhouse.  And it is there where she meets Gabriele, who has been hired to complete a fresco on the building. 

If you enjoy books about time travel or historical Italy – with all its art, city-state rivalries and politics, or information on the spread of the plague – this is the book for you.  It seems historically accurate – including the food, the justice system, religion, the reason for public hangings and why the plague was especially devastating in Siena.

The Florentine Medicis, Dante’s manuscripts, horse racing around the piazza – this novel has it all.  If you can get over the explanation of time travel and just enjoy the story, read this book!  It was fascinating.  If you are afraid this is a transparent “Outlander” copycat, you are right.  But I still enjoyed it.

  • several works of non-fiction

Who Knew?

After the Black Death in 1348, Siena’s population dropped from around 42,000 to around 14,000.