This was a book that took me by surprise with its profundity. When the first chapters were read, I felt unconnected to Wolfgang and his plights, but as I moved further and further through the book, it was impossible not to feel a connection with a man who was so broken, yet who was rapidly trying to assemble himself for the betterment of his patients. Just as the patients were sucuumbing to death at a rapid pace, Wolfgang’s resentments and bitterness were dying as well, and the more Markert revealed about his tragic past, the easier it was for me to see that Wolfgang was beyond a complicated man. He was brave, loyal, and felt guilt to the bottom of his soul for the things that he could not control.
There was a segment in the back of the book about this particular hospital, and conservative estimates place the death toll at around 60,000 when the hospital was at its most active. Markert seeks to explore the ways that the treatment for tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics was a losing battle, and one that was fought with bravery—for those treating the patients were as likely to contract the disease as not. In this novel, the reader can see just how many lives were impacted, and how the rapidity of the disease ruined families and cast suspicion upon those towns that surrounded Waverly Hills. Portions of this book were rather bleak to read, for the spreading of disease was so random, and often cruel, but Markert made all his characters fully three-dimensional and supplemented fact with fiction to create a tale that was breathtaking.
Wolfgang is not only dealing with the losses and broken relationships and pieces of himself, but also with a racism that is so strong that it threatens his dreams of bringing the hospital unity with the performance that he is struggling to build. He has many willing patients to sing and play instruments, and the fact that so many musicians and vocal talents lived up on the hill should reveal that this disease sought to destroy the lives of all walks of people, not only the poor and destitute. When a heinous racial crime takes the hospital by surprise, it’s Wolfgang and his special patient that keep hearts and minds at the hospital limber and ready to act against a perpetrator that hides among them. There really is so much to say about this book that I can’t do it all here. Secrets, lies and murder battle with confession, truth and forgiveness to produce a balm that strokes the heart in its final movement.
I loved this book, and I really wasn’t sure that I was going to like it very much at all. It does seem to have a bit of a slow start, but readers who will get past that first interlude will find themselves handsomely rewarded for their patience and determination. The questions and answers in this book leave me very reflective, and because of this, I would have to say that in the end, this will probably make one of my favorite books of the year.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.