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by Laurie Lico Albanese

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance

Isobel Gamble is a young seamstress carrying generations of secrets when she sets sail from Scotland in the early 1800s with her husband, Edward. An apothecary who has fallen under the spell of opium, his pile of debts have forced them to flee Edinburgh for a fresh start in the New World. But only days after they've arrived in Salem, Edward abruptly joins a departing ship as a medic––leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.

When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is a man haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows––while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and Edward's safe return grows increasingly unlikely, Nathaniel and Isobel grow closer and closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller; the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which?

In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country's complicated past, and learns that America's ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel's story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a "real" American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of "unusual" women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.

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Laurie Lico Albanese

Author Biography

Laurie Lico Albanese is an award-winning novelist and journalist. In Hester, her acclaimed 2022 retelling of The Scarlet Letter from Hester Prynne’s point of view, Albanese brings Hester’s voice to life in a compelling tale that asks who was the real Hester Prynne, and what if she could tell her own story?

Answering a centuries-long literary mystery, Hester gives life, power, and voice to the woman Hawthorne cast into the role of scorned adulteress, and offers a fresh and empowered perspective on the source of her scarlet letter.

Illuminating the life of nineteenth century women alongside the Salem witch trials and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s emerging career, Hester is a rich tale about the price a woman pays for creativity and independence, and the many ways sisterhood is important to a woman’s survival in every age.

Hester is an Audible Best Books of 2022, an IndieNext and Canadian and American Librarians October 2022 selection, a Gillian Flynn Best Books of Fall 2022, a Book of the Month club selection, and a longlist finalist in the Goodreads Best Books of the Year.

Albanese’s novel Stolen Beauty, about Gustav Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer (aka the lady in gold) was praised by the Wall Street Journal as “a work of art itself.”

Albanese is a recipient of a Catherine R. Dodge Foundation Visiting Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a Hadassah-Brandeis Research Award, and a New Jersey State Council of the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing. She teaches creative memoir writing at Montclair State University and has taught at Wager College, and the Stonecoast Summer Writing Program at the University of Southern Maine. Her novels have been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and soon, Croatian. She lives with her husband in Montclair, NJ, where they raised their two grown children. - Authors Unbound

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Publisher's Weekly

Albanese (Stolen Beauty) imagines in her standout historical the inspiration for The Scarlet Letter. Her proxy for Hester Prynne is Isobel Gamble, a skilled seamstress who has synesthesia and left her native Scotland for the U.S. in 1829 after her apothecary husband Edward's addiction to opium sent them to the poorhouse. Isobel's father paid their way out, and the couple took passage onboard a ship bound for America. Once stymied in her ability to express herself creatively, in Salem she uses her talents with needle and thread. She has a chance encounter with writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, recognizing in him a kindred spirit yearning for freedom, a spirit that moves Isobel to risk her life to protect people fleeing slavery. Later, her independent-mindedness leads to suspicions of adultery. Albanese describes Isobel's synesthesia brilliantly, such as in this memory of her cousins in a Scotland valley: "Their voices rise up in vibrant wisps of yellow and gold. The wind was sometimes fierce pink, and the sound of the waterfall on rocks glinted silver." Even those unfamiliar with the classic will be hooked by this account of a capable woman standing up to the sexist and racial prejudices of her time. (Oct.)

Kirkus Reviews

This novel reimagines The Scarlet Letter from the point of view of a woman who might have inspired Hester Prynne. Isobel Gamble is still a teenager when she emigrates from her native Scotland to Salem, Massachusetts, with her much older husband, Edward. Isobel comes from a long line of women with secret knowledge--her namesake is an ancestor known as Isobel Gowdie, Queen of Witches. But she's been taught since childhood to mask such knowledge, including her synesthesia, a condition that lets her see colors associated with sounds and letters. She's bent her energy to her skill at needlework, which has helped her support her family. With Edward, who's an apothecary, she believed she'd made a good marriage--until they ended up in the poorhouse because of his drug use. Salem is their second chance, but almost as soon as they arrive, he turns around and goes back to sea as a medic, leaving her almost penniless. Isobel gets to work and finds support from some people in the community. She also gets to know a tall and handsome young fellow named Nat Hathorne, a man she saw the day she arrived in town. Isobel is a red-haired beauty, and Nat's interest in her quickly turns into flirtation and more. The Salem witch trials are more than a century in the past, but Nat, an aspiring poet, is haunted by the role of his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, one of the most implacable judges in the trials. The trials haunt this book, too, woven through its story of Isobel, a woman who bears the bigotry of the town because she's an immigrant and a woman whose husband may have deserted her. The author has incorporated plentiful research about the witch trials and, in Isobel's present, the Underground Railroad. The rich details of life in Salem in the early 19th century, and especially about Isobel's creative work as a seamstress and designer, enliven the tale. Nathaniel Hawthorne plays an unexpected role in this lively fictional look at the origins of his masterpiece. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


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