Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: Year of Wonders

As hard as I willed it, I could not draw up anything to follow: no formal supplication, no Bible verse, no scrap of liturgy.  All of the texts and Psalms and orisons I had by rote were gone from me, erased, as surely as hard-learned words written with painful effort onto a slate can be licked away with the lazy swipe of a dampened rag.  After so many unanswered prayers, I had lost the means to pray.
A few months ago when I was whining about not having anything to read, a commenter recommended Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.   I felt a little flash of excitement when I read this comment; it is a book that I had considered rereading several times but just never actually picked it up and read it.

I read this book a long time ago, I think in about 2002 or 2003.  At that time, all I had was one chubby blond haired boy to take care of.  Anna, the main character in Year of Wonders, has two chubby blond haired boys.  The scenes with her boys and their short-cut lives just tore me apart the first time I read it. And really, it wasn't much easier the second time around.  It was too personal to hear her descriptions of the way a mother loves her sons.  And to lose them and have no control; oh, I can't imagine.

If you've never read it, Year of Wonders is about a village in England that quarantines itself off when plague arrives at its doorstep.  Anna has taken in a border to her home who is also a tailor.  One of the bolts of fabric he receives from London is infected with plague. He is the first to die, and so this terrible sickness takes over the town.  Their inspiration for their selfless act is a young rector in their midst, a man who seems as large as life, who preaches their quarantine one Sunday in church.  The entire town, minus the town nobleman and his father, agree to the quarantine, thus sealing their fate to become the Plague Village.  (Which, btw, really existed.  Brooks based her book on a true account of just such a village.)

It was heartbreaking to read about how people died from plague.  In the 1660's, people didn't understand infection or how it traveled.  Was it a curse from God?  Was it the devil?  Was it nature?  Was it witchcraft?  Their simple lives were filled with so many unanswered questions and concepts.  To read the scenes of children playing with dead rats in a woodpile and not being able to understand that the rats were dead from the very thing that would also kill them in a few days is terrible.  And yet there is such beauty in the book.

I loved watching Anna grow to fill the roles she was destined to fill.  Anna is much more than the rectory maid.  She becomes a healer, a midwife, a friend, a witness of the best in people and the worst in people.  She learns that life goes on, even when half of your neighbors are dead. She learns that people aren't always who they seem to be, and that no one really knows what is happening in a relationship other than the two in it.  Anna is such a strong character and I loved revisiting her story.  I enjoyed this book the second time just as much as the first.  Plus, I took my pen to it, SDBBE style, thus adding a different dimension to the reading.

Have you read this book?  Any thoughts? Thanks, anonymous commenter for the suggestion!


Jeanette said...

Sounds like a good book. I will have to read it as well =0)

PS I talked to a lady about Little Bee at the book store the other day, she couldn't decide if she wanted to read it or not.

She decided to buy it =0)