Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is the fictional account of an 18 year old widow with two young boys set against the larger backdrop of the true story of the plague in a remote village in Derbyshire in 1665-1666.
Anna, a servant to the town minister Michael Mompellion, is alone with her boys after her young husband dies in a mining accident. The bubonic plague arrives in the village with a tailor from London, who Anna has taken in as a boarder. In horrifying detail we watch as the disease spreads from Anna’s cottage to her neighbors’ homes and the greater community.
In the early weeks of the plague, the minister gathers his flock together and has them take the Sunday Oath, in which they will voluntarily seal off their town’s borders to allow the plague to run it’s course without anyone entering or exiting their village. Anna forges an unlikely friendship with the minister’s wife Elinor, together becoming well versed in the use of herbs to comfort and alleviate pain. She tends to the sick even as she grieves for the dead. Miraculously she survives the year that claims 1/3rd of the town’s population. Her perseverance in the face of death is truly inspiring.
Year of Wonders made me wonder- how much can one person take? Clearly, as the saying goes, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. This novel speaks to the indomitable human spirit. It made me grateful for things like hand sanitizer and antibiotics. It made me appreciate the blessings of hot running water and flush toilets. It made me worry more than I already do about asian bird flu, mad cow disease and deadly SARS. But for all the horrifying and grim detail of this book, it is absolutely wonderful and one I cannot recommend highly enough. Geraldine Brooks has done an exceptional job of blending historical fact with fiction. She is a magnificent storyteller.
Ms. Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of March, about the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Her most recent novel, People of the Book, was released in January. You can find her website HERE.
I look forward to discussing this book at my book club meeting in June, and also with the online book group at The Inside Cover. If you’d like to participate in that discussion- run out and get a copy of Year of Wonders and be ready to talk about it on May 31st.
You can find another review of Year of Wonders at Devourer of Books.
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