Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

Year of Wonders by Geraldine  Brooks
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Jan 07, 15

bookshelves: apocalyptic
Read from March 27 to April 01, 2012

“My Tom died as babies do, gently and without complaint. Because they have been such a little time with us, they seem to hold to life but weakly. I used to wonder if it was so because the memory of Heaven still lived within them, so that in leaving here they do not fear death as we do, who no longer know with certainty where it is our spirits go. This, I thought, must be the kindness that God does for them and for us, since He gives so many infants such a little while to bide with us.”

1666 was not a good year for England with bubonic plague killing 100,000 people followed by The Great Fire of London which destroyed 80% of London or about 13,000 homes. It is hard for us to conceive of a disease that can show up one day and within a few short months kill 75% of the people we know. To survive is fortuitous, but to actually acquire the disease and survive is nothing short of miraculous. The first signs were bulges at the groin called buboes. Can you imagine the bone chilling fear that would course through your body at the first appearance of such bulges?

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George Viccars, a tailor, made a very innocuous decision to order a bolt of cloth from London. He used the cloth to make fashionable dresses for the ladies of Eyam little did he know the cloth was infested with plague carrying fleas. The plague kills Viccars first and spreads quickly from family to family taking the youngest and fittest in greatest numbers. William Mompellion, the minister of the shire, makes the heroic decision to quarantine the town and contain the contagion. Through the eyes of Anna Frith we are exposed to the devastating effects of fear and loss on the small community. Death brings opportunity to some and sends others into object poverty. Anna, though besot by her own demons, does the best she can to not only survive her personal losses, but also make the fateful decision to devout her life providing help and succor to those who need it most.

The midwives, medicine women, who command a deep knowledge of herbs and roots that would provide the most help during an outbreak of a deadly disease are the first to be treated with distrust. Their knowledge is looked on as magical well beyond the understanding of an under educated population. You would have thought these women had green skin and made grand statements like "I'll get you my pretty.", but they were just women interested in understanding the world around them and making the best use of what nature provided.

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"And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share." The rich flee Eyam and the rest stay, intent on riding out the worst of the contagion. They had no conception of just how horrible things were going to get.

This is based on a true story. The book shows people at their very best and their very worst. It made me consider what I would do. Could I be as brave as Anna? Could I support the leadership of a Minister intent on keeping me and my family in harms way? Could I help those already infected? There are many things to admire in this tale. The ending though is odd. I notice that other reviewers mentioned the ending and I agree it was unexpected, but maybe we are all just underestimating the courage and determination of one woman.

Two other plague novels that I really liked are Company Of Liars by Karen Maitland and The Pesthouse by Jim Crace. I have no reviews for them; unfortunately, because I read them before finding the wonderful community of goodreads. Company of Liars is told in a similar vein to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Pesthouse is a postapocalyptic America regressed to Medieval conditions.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane Love me some plague.


message 2: by Terry (last edited Apr 01, 2012 06:10PM) (new)

Terry Have you tried Eifelheim by Michael Flynn? Part of the story takes place in a medieval German village when it is hit by the Black Death, but also deals with a first contact alien story. It's really well told with great characters.


Jeffrey Keeten Terry wrote: "Have you tried Eifelheim by Michael Flynn? Part of the story takes place in a medieval German village when it is hit by the Black Death, but also deals with a first contact alien stor..."

Thanks Terry I had forgotten about that book. I should definitely add it to my plague reading resume.


Jeffrey Keeten Jane wrote: "Love me some plague."

Aye.


message 5: by Janet (new)

Janet Keeten Scientists went back in modern times to test the Eyam survivors' descendants to see why their ancestors had survived and found a genetic marker. The true story is amazing. Can't wait to read this fictional one.


Jeffrey Keeten Janet wrote: "Scientists went back in modern times to test the Eyam survivors' descendants to see why their ancestors had survived and found a genetic marker. The true story is amazing. Can't wait to read this f..."

I have read something about that.


message 7: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm I liked Camus' The Plague and I liked Brooks' March so this is probably a good fit for me. Plus, it's lurking on my kindle.


Jeffrey Keeten Gary wrote: "I liked Camus' The Plague and I liked Brooks' March so this is probably a good fit for me. Plus, it's lurking on my kindle."

I haven't read March, but I have a copy. I'll have to queue it up soon. The fact that this really happened definitely gave me pause. It made me wonder how good a human being I am.


message 9: by Jonfaith (new)

Jonfaith Maybe Defoe?


Jennifer (aka EM) Jeffrey, great review - and you were oh-so-much more tolerant than I! I have Company of Liars sitting right here within reach ... thanks (to you and Terry in #2) for the reminder!

I too heartily endorse Eifelheim. Just a beautiful, unique take on The Black Death, for us plaguesters.


Jeffrey Keeten Jonfaith wrote: "Maybe Defoe?"

Of course A Journal of the Plague Year


Jeffrey Keeten Jennifer (aka EM) wrote: "Jeffrey, great review - and you were oh-so-much more tolerant than I! I have Company of Liars sitting right here within reach ... thanks (to you and Terry in #2) for the reminder!

I too heartil..."


I'm not a very good book critic. I'm more of a book lover, but I understand that many people really didn't like the ending. I was surprised by it, but I didn't feel that the ending killed the book. I thought she handled the plague part of the book very well. I was supposed to catch up with her at a signing, but had something come up and didn't make it. I really wanted to ask her about the ending of this book. Next tour maybe.


message 13: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Sir Geoffrey, I liked this one all over again. It's too bad GR doesn't give one the option to like a review more than once! So I will settle for a recommendation. The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman which takes place in England during the cholera epidemic of 1831.


message 14: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane Mike wrote: "The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman which takes place in England during the cholera epidemic of 1831."

Thanks for the recommendation, Mike. I checked out the link and this one has some pretty intriguing reviews. Very mixed opinions but nobody found it boring...


message 15: by Steve (new)

Steve Not exactly beach reading, is it, Jeffrey? You make it sound pretty interesting, though. It's scary to know that it's based on a true story.


Jeffrey Keeten Mike wrote: "Sir Geoffrey, I liked this one all over again. It's too bad GR doesn't give one the option to like a review more than once! So I will settle for a recommendation. The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holma..."

I will definitely check out your recommendation. I've seen the book pop up on my radar a few times. How goes the battle with the kudzu plague?


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Not exactly beach reading, is it, Jeffrey? You make it sound pretty interesting, though. It's scary to know that it's based on a true story."

The decision these courageous people make might make a few jaded souls believe in humanity again. This is a The Fifth Element moment when Bruce Willis is trying to convince Milla Jovovich that we are worth saving. Yes, Milla Eyam!


Steph The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a modern day post-plague novel that I strongly suggest. I see you suggest medieval plague books, but thought I'd suggest it anyway.


Jeffrey Keeten Steph wrote: "The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a modern day post-plague novel that I strongly suggest. I see you suggest medieval plague books, but thought I'd suggest it anyway."

It sounds like a great fit for me Steph. Thanks for the recommend!


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