3.71 (642 ratings by Goodreads)
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Diane McKinney-Whetstone's nationally bestselling novel, Tumbling, immersed us into Philadelphia's black community during the Civil Rights era, and she returns to the city in this new historical novel about a cast of nineteenth-century characters whose colorful lives intersect at the legendary Lazaretto--America's first quarantine hospital.

Isolated on an island where two rivers meet, the Lazaretto quarantine hospital is the first stop for immigrants who wish to begin new lives in Philadelphia. The Lazaretto's black live-in staff forge a strong social community, and when one of them receives permission to get married on the island the mood is one of celebration, particularly since the white staff--save the opium-addicted doctor--are given leave for the weekend. On the eve of the ceremony, a gunshot rings out across the river. A white man has fired at a boat carrying the couple's friends and family to the island, and the captain is injured. His life lies in the hands of Sylvia, the Lazaretto's head nurse, who is shocked to realize she knows the patient.

Intertwined with the drama unfolding at the Lazaretto are the fates of orphan brothers. When one brother commits a crime to protect the other, he imperils both of their lives--and the consequences ultimately deliver both of them to the Lazaretto.

In this masterful work of historical fiction, Diane McKinney-Whetstone seamlessly transports us to Philadelphia in the aftermath of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, beautifully evoking powerful stories of love, friendship and humanity amid the vibrant black community that flourished amid the troubled times.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 137 x 201 x 23mm | 272g
  • Harper Paperbacks
  • English
  • Reprint
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0062126970
  • 9780062126979

Review quote

-Offers up both wrenching and sweet truths that feel familiar to any reader, in a series of uncloying, unpredictable plotlines. The result is a book that feels honest, filled with people you want to keep reading about.---Philadelphia Magazine
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Back cover copy

This stunning new novel from Diane McKinney-Whetstone, national 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 arranges to take the baby, so it falls to Sylvia, the midwife's teenage apprentice, to tell the mother, 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. Here conflicts escalate, lies collapse, and secrets begin to surface. Like dead men rising, past sins cannot be contained.
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Rating details

642 ratings
3.71 out of 5 stars
5 23% (145)
4 37% (240)
3 30% (195)
2 8% (50)
1 2% (12)
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