In fourteenth century France, a 15 year old virgin, Blanche, levitates in church and nine months later gives birth to a daughter named Bonne. When Bonne is only 12 years old, Blanche is burned alive along with other "sinners" in a church. Bonne becomes a professional breast-feeder or "wet nurse." Her breast milk never stops flowing and seems to have restorative powers.

She finds herself catapulted from outcast to saint despite a series of catastrophes. When her town of Villeneuve is under siege and starving, she breast feeds not just children but many of the townspeople as well, asking only to listen to the individual's life story in exchange for her milk. Bonne's fate becomes deeply entangled with the lives of three friends: Godfridus (a chaste sculptor who goes mad), Hercules Legrand (a dwarf), and Radegonde Putemonnoie (a wealthy pregnant widow who hires Bonne).


In this odd but compelling novel, it's "hard to say what's a miracle and what isn't." The truth seems unattainable or at least subject to change. The protagonist, Bonne, is both common and extraordinary. Her many names reflect the town's changing opinions of her: Tardieu ("God's Bastard"), LaMère ("The Mother"), and Mirabilis ("The Astonishing"). Bonne is generous and maternal. She is aware that mankind's oldest, most primal instinct is to suck and to save oneself.

The novel questions the nature of miracles: What constitutes one or are they all a ruse? An individual's search for identity occupies a central role in the story as do notions of faith, grace, charity, passion, and redemption. The role of women in society and the concept of motherhood are scrutinized. Along the way, readers are "treated" to descriptions of a difficult childbirth requiring a grisly C-section and the management of a traumatic thumb injury that becomes septic. Many of the characters in this novel agree that life is never easy, but one of them concludes "Hope will save us . . . and forgiveness."


Penguin Putnam/BlueHen Books

Place Published

New York



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