📚 Lazaretto 📚
AUTHOR: Diane McKinney-Whetstone
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins Publishers
RATING: ☕️☕️☕️☕️ 4.5 Captivating Historical Fiction
This stunning new novel from Diane McKinney-Whetstone, nationally bestselling author of Tumbling, begins in the chaotic backstreets of post–Civil War Philadelphia as a young black woman gives birth to a child fathered by her wealthy white employer.
In a city riven by racial tension, the father’s transgression is unforgivable. He has already arranged to take the baby, so it falls to Sylvia, the midwife’s teenage apprentice, to tell Meda that her child is dead—a lie that will define the course of both women’s lives. A devastated Meda dedicates herself to working in an orphanage and becomes a surrogate mother to two white boys; while Sylvia, fueled by her guilt, throws herself into her nursing studies and finds a post at the Lazaretto, the country’s first quarantine hospital, situated near the Delaware River, just south of Philadelphia.
The Lazaretto is a crucible of life and death; sick passengers and corpses are quarantined here, but this is also the place where immigrants take their first steps toward the American dream. The live-in staff are mostly black Philadelphians, and when two of them arrange to marry, the city’s black community prepares for a party on its grounds. But the celebration is plunged into chaos when gunshots ring out across the river.
As Sylvia races to save the victim, the fates of Meda’s beloved orphans also converge on the Lazaretto. Long ago, one “brother” committed an unthinkable act to protect the other, sparking a chain of events that now puts the Lazaretto on lockdown. Here conflicts escalate, lies collapse and secrets begin to surface; like dead men rising, past sins cannot be contained.
This book starts off with the introduction of young Meda’s first encounter with Sylvia. Set in the post-civil war era, 40’s-50’s. Meda like many during that time loved the President Abraham Lincoln. On the night of his assassination, Meda is taken to a midwife Dr. Miss, to terminate a pregnancy which she has hidden. However the arrival is far too late, and instead of a termination, there will be a delivery. Sylvia is the apprentice nurse to Dr. Miss. This night would be her first time assisting in childbirth. She’s as excited as she is scared. The event and secrets changed the life of both women, forever.
After the assassination of Lincoln, and the unfortunate event of her childbirth, Meda is sent to the orphanage to help overcome her grief. There she encounters the two male infants that have been sent there to live. Having just given birth, Meda is still lactating and becomes attached to the two boys. She subsequently named them after the President. Linc and Bram are brothers, though not biological but in every other sense of the word.
The lives of Linc and Bram consume the first half of this book. Their bond is forever solidified with Meda and although it’s never really said, they love her like their own Mother. Linc and Bram continue to live in the orphanage with weekend visits to see Meda, until the leadership at the orphanage changes hands. One night a tragic event changes the lives of Linc and Bram forever.
The second half of the book finally gets to the quarantine station The Lazaretto. The Lazaretto sits outside of Philadelphia and houses many who live and work the hospital that clears the entry of ships and passengers before entering the country. On the Lazaretto, the tone changes, there’s a racial attack, murder, drugs, hate, love and of course drama. The characters become more lively and the anticipation of actions are increased.
This was the first book I read by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story, however, the ending was a bit disappointing for me, hence the 4.5 stars. I look forward to reading more and I also think that Sylvia could have a book of her own.