by Geraldine Brooks
Penguin Books, 2001
My book club is reading Geraldine Brooks in November. She is the next speaker for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series and, rather than reading a specific book, members are choosing one of her many works to read in preparation. Several of Brooks novels sounded interesting, but my choice was made based solely on availability. Year of Wonders was purchased for a dollar at last summer's library book sale.
This historical novel takes place in 1665-1666, during The Great Plague. The Plague travels from London, via a bolt of fabric, to an isolated mountain village. The villagers, under the influence of their young minister, make the extraordinary decision to quarantine themselves in hopes of preventing further spread of the disease. The story is told by Anna Frith, a housemaid to the minister and his wife.
As every household is affected by Plague, Anna and the minister's wife Eleanor, tend the sick and attempt to comfort the living. Faith begins to weaken, and the villagers resort to every means imaginable, including murderous witch-hunting, in an attempt to banish the disease. Anna faces death in her own family, yet emerges as a strong heroine. Though the subject matter is grim, to say the least, Anna's strength of character and resolve are truly memorable.
The story is based around actual events and the tremendous amount of research involved is plainly evident. Although historical fiction has not been one of my preferred genres, I enjoyed this book very much and now plan to include more in my reading.
A little background information will also be helpful before hearing Brooks speak next month. She began her career as a journalist, and was a correspondent at the Wall Street Journal for eleven years. Her first two books, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (1994) and Foreign Correspondence: A Penpal’s Journey from Down Under to All Over (1995) are nonfiction.
Brooks then turned her attention to fiction. Year of Wonders, her debut novel of 2001, was a Notable Book of the Year for The New York Times. Her second novel, March, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. People of the Book is Brooks' latest novel, published in January 2008. It was an instant best-seller and won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.
Born and raised in Australia, Brooks lives with her husband, Tony Horwitz, and their sons in Massachusetts. Much more information can be found on her website. The Rosamond Gifford Lecture series continues on November 9.
(photo by Randi Baird)