Inspired by her son's paternal ancestor - a great, great grandmother who lived a century ago, the author writes a powerful, passionate international love story that begins in Boston in 1903 and traverses the globe. Detailing the remarkable lives
of extraordinary and unconventional characters, McDonnell’s protagonists - whether they like it or not - are reluctantly bound by the rigid Edwardian social mores of their time.
Renowned Boston gynecologist Dr. Ravell is a man drawn to risk, exhibiting a tinge of excitement when he first meets the ravishing Erika von Kessler, with her stunning beauty and
the shimmering voice that seems to “breathe melody.” Ravell watches as Erika and her husband, tall and elegant Peter Myrick, make their way down Commonwealth Avenue toward his offices, positive that Peter is the one who is leading the charge to end the couple’s childlessness.
Ravell understands Peter's longings: Ravell, too, desires children, yet the doctor is well aware that imposing any further fertility treatment on Peter and Erika will be useless. In the darkness of the moment, he offers Peter and Erika his blind assurances, just as he begins to do an invasion of the most appalling kind, something unforgivable. Removing Peter's specimen still fresh in a glass dish from a drawer, Ravell's
nervous hands slip it under the microscope. What Ravell has always suspected is
confirmed: there are no sperm at all in Peter’s semen.
Erika tells Ravell that she wants a child more than anything, all the while carefully shielding her real secret desires. For months now, she has been intending to leave Boston and Peter,
to move permanently to Europe for the sake of bettering her voice and expanding herself.
Acclaimed opera diva Madame Nordica tells Erika that she needs to get herself to Italy, select a reputable teacher and start studying the repertory there.
Peter, with his princely good looks and bullish enthusiasm, barely cares about Erika's musical gifts. He's also dismissive of his wife’s desires to live apart from him in Europe. For all of Erika’s operatic yearnings, she’s still drawn to the pull of Peter’s sexuality; the attraction between them is palpable. As Erika sings fragments of her beloved Handel arias over and over again, she remains adamant in her yearnings, making her plans for a life on the Continent. Neither party, however, foresees the ramifications of Ravell’s underhanded deed, a selfish betrayal that cements his connection to his muse. The truth can never be told, for it will ruin Ravell forever.
The fascinating setup at the beginning of the novel gives McDonnell’s tale much of its romantic piquancy; Erika, Peter and Ravell are inevitably bound together by their choices. The story effortlessly moves from the exotic coconut plantations of Trinidad to the great opera houses of Florence and Milan, to the rivers of Venezuela where Peter’s manly arrogance is as telling as Ravell’s desperate shame. Ending in Florence in 1914, the last act is a perfect coda for Erika, where she finds love while giving herself up to her soaring voice and bold aspirations, the power of music her one great passion and delight.