|Year of Wonders
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Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack up and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. The narrator, the young widow Anna Frith, is one of the few who succeeds. With Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, she tends to the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence, and superstition. All is complicated by the intense, inexpressible feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife. Year of Wonders sometimes seems anachronistic as historical fiction; Anna and Mompellion occasionally appear to be modern sensibilities unaccountably transferred to 17th-century Derbyshire. However, there is no mistaking the power of Brooks's imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances. --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.uk
When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders."
Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. Written with stunning emotional intelligence and introducing "an inspiring heroine" (The Wall Street Journal), Brooks blends love and learning, loss and renewal into a spellbinding and unforgettable read.
"The novel glitters . . . A deep imaginative engagement with how people are changed by catastrophe." (The New Yorker)
"Year of Wonders is a vividly imagined and strangely consoling tale of hope in a time of despair." (O, The Oprah Magazine)
"Brooks proves a gifted storyteller as she subtly reveals how ignorance, hatred and mistrust can be as deadly as any virus. . . . Year of Wonders is itself a wonder." (People )
- you MUST read this book!!!!
Year of Wonders is a novel inspired by the true story of the little town of Eyam in Derbyshire, known as the Plague Village, during the years 1665 - 1666. Although the cause of how the plague showed up in their village is still unknown, the villagers' decision to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the deadly disease has sealed their place in history.
Geraldine Brooks provides us with a fictional account of what life looked like from within the Plague Village and gives us insight into the human nature that accompanies tragedy.
Anna Frith is a widowed housemaid busy raising her two sons and working in the home of the town's priest and his wife, the Montpelliers. When Anna's lodger dies she suspects the plague to be the cause of his awful death and it's not long before her fears are confirmed. The spread is rampant and the fatalities of the villagers grow daily. No one is safe from the disease and every Sunday the church pews get emptier. Anna and Mrs. Montpellier team up to care for those afflicted while Mr. Montpellier works tirelessly bringing comfort to the dying.
What really fascinated me in this novel was the human factor - how the villagers dealt with the constant death of their loved ones and neighbors, the trauma of self-exile and how their faith was tried. They sought a reason why this plague had come upon them, to understand...why was God punishing them or was he testing them?
My favorite part of the novel was the friendship between Anna and Mrs. Montpellier, which has been strengthened by the tragedy is really beautiful to read and you can't help but love both of them and stand in awe of their strength.
The ending is a bit of a rollercoaster with the revealing of secrets and hidden desires realized. Brooks ties the ends up nicely and while I was a little surprised by the ending, it was a pleasant surprise and I felt a great way to say goodbye to Anna, knowing she would have the happy future she so deserved.
This poor book has been sitting on my TBR tower for ages and I could just kick myself for waiting this long to finally read it! Brooks' writing is brilliant, I can't wait to read more from her. Do yourself a favor and read this! You won't be sorry you did =)
- A "wonder" at some, and not so on others...
Wanted to give it 3 stars because some parts lagged a bit or else became much too introspective for me.
But then again, there were bits that were really emotional and heartwrenching (to the point that I actually felt a tightening in the chest) that made the overall impact of the novel subtle yet still powerfully staggering.
The ending was a surprise, but I suppose that the author felt the need to tweak things a bit to hone in the lasting message she wanted to impart...(how the heck could anyone really know why authors write as they do?)
One thing is for sure, stories of survival and the naked, unabashed portrayal of human failings in the midst of turmoil are what make such reading experiences always a new discovery of yet another dimension of ourselves....more info
- A good dramatic read
The year is 1665 CE. A traveling tailor named George Viccars finds himself in a small Derbyshire village located in central England. Unknown to him and the village that takes him in, his residence being with a widower named Anna Frith who has two sons, he is carrying the plague. After his death, his goods spread and with them the deadly plague. The town vicar, Michael Mompellion, and his wife Elinor convince the people of the village to contain themselves within their walls in order to keep from spreading the plague to the rest of England. As the author states, this story is based on an actual event that happened in a village aptly known as Plague Village. Though the village people could very well flee and perhaps outrun the disease, they (for the most part) remain in their village to wait out the disease. Convinced that this plague is a trial sent by God, the people come together even as some of them fall apart. Innocent herbal women are beaten as witches, men and women seek to repent with violent means of self-mortification, and anger runs rampant. In the face of oblivion, moral codes and personal virtues are abandoned for pleasure and destructive behavior makes it all the easier for people to forget. The people of the village struggle with each other, their personal connections, and their connection to God. Eventually, they begin to question the nature of their suffering and God's ultimate plan.
This story is how people manage. It is about how people stay strong and how they break down.
Personally, I liked the story. I think anyone who has read my previous reviews knows how I feel about accuracy in historical fiction: while I enjoy critiquing historical fiction for accuracy, I also don't expect it. I'm realistic and perhaps overly forgiving in that I accept details must be altered or exaggerated for understanding or dramatic effect. After all, we don't want fiction to read as a tedious textbook! Attentions have to be grabbed, held, and kept until the end.
Did this book that? Yes and no. Sometimes I felt the story dragging on and on. For the first few chapters, I read very slowly. Eventually, though, as the story moved on, I found it becoming more interesting. About the middle to nearly the end, I couldn't put the book down.
Nearly the end.
I found myself wondering if Anna were superwoman for all she had managed to do in that time between the plague coming and finally disappearing. She was a simple peasant and servant, yet she could interpret Latin, create herbal remedies, ride a horse like a man, act as a midwife and deliver a breech baby, set a fire to mine iron even though she herself stated that she'd never even seen the inside of a mine... yes, the woman can and does do everything. Even those things well above her station as a servant. I think it was the excessive nature of her talents that started to annoy me and grate on my nerves. If not for Anna's shows of occasional modesty that seemed sincere, she would have been a Mary Sue. After a while, I began to wonder if Anna was going to start to sparkle and cure the plague with her tears. When she began yelling at her former masters and acting well out of her station, I had to wonder if Brookes was paying any attention to realistic social boundaries of the time. Again, this might not have annoyed me had I not grown weary of Anna's super talents. Though I say annoyed above, I mean it in a very amused way. I don't get angry about books, at least not often. I just found myself shaking my head and snorting at certain parts of the books. And why would a rich Muslim doctor marry a widowed infidel from England?
There's also much romance to be had. Okay, there is supposed to be romance. Up until Anna and the vicar Mompellion connected eyes over a shave towards the end of the book, there was absolutely no chemistry between them. Yet all of a sudden the two of them were copulating on the floor in a manner totally unlike an Anglican man of God and a modest, holy servant. The romance between them came completely out of nowhere. I guess I should have seen it coming when throughout the book Brookes dedicated countless lines of adjectives and praise for things like the commanding boom of the Mompellion's voice, or his strong arms, or his dominating nature. I thought it a bit odd that he was being described in `romance book terms,' yet there was absolutely no personal intimate chemistry between him and Anna.
And I am still disappointed in the turn Mompellion's character made towards the end. It was so completely out of his character that I had trouble accepting it. Twists are one thing, but making a character into something opposite with no hints to his true nature is just out of the blue and confusing.
I know that I sound overly critical, but book readers know that a book can be flawed while still being a very great story. I liked the morbidity of the story; witnessing the breakdown of the people in this town as they battled adversity and death was fascinating. It was unreal to me to submit myself to death in the way the town people did. I had to commend the bravery of Brooke's characters, even as I condemned them for their actions in other regards. Yet, it was understandable how they behaved under certain circumstances. When faced with death, who knows what one would do or how to cope? And yes, Anna had her moments, but I found her a very likeable character.
This book was like sociology and morbid psychology in action.
Year of Wonders is actually a very good book. It is a good and interesting read. You will read the book and find yourself captivated by much. I didn't grow bored with what I read, even as I snorted in mirth. If you like historically based novels with a lot of drama and a fair mixture of people going absolutely crazy, you'll really enjoy this one. I did....more info
- Great Book, Unrealistic Ending
Year of Wonders is the story of a small English village invaded by the Plague in 1665 and 1666. The villagers quarantine themselves in order to stop the Plague from spreading to surrounding places. Told from the perspective of Anna, a young widowed maid for the rector and his wife, the story follows the village from the first case of the Plague until the infection and two thirds of the population are gone.
This book captivated me from the very beginning. The fact that it's loosely based on a true story is a big reason that I found it so interesting. Brooks made you feel what it would be like to be there and to be one of those people. I felt their fear, their sadness, and their grief. My one complaint about the book, and the reason I didn't give it five stars, is the ending. I felt it was unrealistic and it seemed tacked on almost as an afterthought....more info
- NON-Historical Hollywood ending book - a sales job if ever there was
The author pairs up actual historical facts with unbelievable historical fiction to create a Hollywood book if there ever was. A country cleric with a library ??? ...more info
- Interesting characters, unlikely ending
Geraldine Brooks' novel, Year of Wonders, offers a compelling story of considerable hardships, trials, and experience of human nature under extreme circumstances. There were several strengths to the novel and a few flaws that in my mind kept the novel from obtaining 5 stars.
One considerable strength to the novel is the development of the character of Anna Frith, one of the most level-headed female characters in English literature since Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. We see the world through this woman of high intelligence and astute observational ability. Brooks develops a cast of characters that is broad and compelling. Even though there are multiple characters of all classes and dispositions, the reader seems to be able to visualize them and keep them straight.
There are however a few weaknesses to the novel that keep it from getting a 5 out of 5 score. One of these is that there often too many heroic actions on the part of Anna Frith, making her seem unrealistic at times. I am certain this aspect of the novel may make Anna a highly compelling and likable character for many readers, but too much heroism becomes suspect. For example, Anna and another woman put on men's clothes and mine ore so a poor orphan girl doesn't lose her inheritance. Having never been in the mines, they obtain a full day's worth of ore and use a highly dangerous method of mining with no experience with explosives. Unfortunately the ending is also highly unlikely and is actually the most unsatisfactory portion of the novel.
I remained entertained throughout the novel but I reached several points in the book where I became frustrated with the heroine engaging in too many deeds that were unrealistic and which bordered on fantasy.
- Uninteresting until the end
I didn't really like this book -- I found it kind of boring. Most of the book describes the year of the plague and all the villagers that died (I'm not spoiling anything with that information). It felt like "Groundhog Day" -- the same set of events happened over and over with various villagers dying. I realize that each villager was a different character with different circumstances, but all the deaths just ran together at a certain point. The book just didn't have enough of an interesting storyline to draw me in. The ending was surprising and I was glad to have gotten through the book to enjoy the ending....more info
I read this book on a whim.....and WOW! What a read. When I wasn't reading, I could not get the characters and the story out of my head. The story is a wonderful blend of history, fiction, and amazing, captivating characters. A great read, highly recommended!!!...more info
- Beautifully written historical fiction
"The Year of Wonders" tells the story of a small village in the 1600s afflicted by the plague. The villagers are convinced by their charismatic rector, Michael Mompellion, to isolate themselves in the hopes of keeping the plague from spreading outside of their community. The book is written through the first-person viewpoint of Anna Frith, a young widow who sometimes works for the rector and his wife, Eleanor. Although unschooled, Anna is bright, brave, and compassionate. As the plague affects more and more people, Anna works closely with Eleanor, both in nursing those that are ill and in trying to prevent the spread of the disease to others. While the plague brings out the worst in some people, in Anna it brings out an extraordinary capacity to grow and change; she becomes capable of accomplishing things she would never have thought possible.
Anna's relationship to Michael and Eleanor Mompellion is an important part of the novel. Anna greatly admires both Eleanor and Michael, but at the same time she is somewhat jealous of their love for each other. She sees their marriage as a perfect union, while she is all alone in the world. Anna will discover that Michael and Eleanor's relationship is much more complex than it appears.
Geraldine Brooks uses some archaic vocabulary in the story, which adds to the authentic feel to the book. To me, "The Year of Wonders" is definitely one of those novels where you really feel transported to another place and time. "The Year of Wonders" is well-written, thoroughly engaging historical fiction.
- 3 Brooks books in a week is ...
probably too much. Brooks sure has a horrible (& probably realistic) view of humanity (& religions). I enjoyed People of the Book (despite some slow parts) but I had to stop half way through March and I flipped through to the end of this one. BOTH OF THESE LATTER BOOKS WERE SO DEPRESSING!!! Except for the last few pages of Wonders - hear lies the Hollywood ending as someone else noted. ...more info
- Based on a True Story
It's 1666, and a young tailor visiting a remote English village inadvertently brings the plague when he receives an infected bolt of cloth from London. Anna Frith, his landlady, who is a young widow and mother, tends to him as he dies, and then gets swept up in the epidemic as it spreads around her village, killing everyone who is dear to her and leaving her community in shambles. Year of Wonders is written from Anna's perspective, as she tries to deal with the unbearable pain of loss while trying to bring comfort as a healer to the rest of the village. She becomes an unlikely heroine, learning herb lore and midwifery and joining forces with the rector and his wife to assist both the dying and the living.
The villagers, with the guidance of the rector, make the extraordinary decision to cut themselves off from the rest of society, hoping to stop the contagion from spreading beyond their community. As the illness thrives among them, so too does madness, and soon Anna and some of her peers must confront prejudice, superstition and hatred that could potentially destroy the entire village.
This is a sensitively rendered historical novel about how a community must cope with extreme devastation and loss, and how in times of crisis, people are capable of doing extraordinary things. Anna is just an ordinary person, a housemaid who is confined by her lack of education and her place in a society with a gendered division of labor. However, a time of plague is not an ordinary time, and Anna finds that she must accomplish things that she feels are impossible. She is a very likeable character, despite her weaknesses and vices being laid bare to the reader.
If there are any problems with this novel, it's that Anna's sensibilities and those of the rector, Michael Mompellion, sometime seem too modern for 17th century conventions, although Mompellion's character is based on the real-life William Mompesson, who served as rector in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire during their plague outbreak in 1666. Anna, however, is a completely fictional character, and seems overly sophisticated and intelligent for her role in society. Also, the interesting ending seemed quite unrealistic to me. Anna, as it would be easy to guess, survives the plague outbreak, but how her life changes afterwards is beyond anyone's imagination.
Still, despite the novel's flaws, it's an immensely engaging read. For anyone who has an appreciation of historical fiction, Year of Wonders is definitely worth picking up. That Brooks based this novel on the real struggles of Eyam, the Plague Village, makes it all the more fascinating.
- Year of Wonders
This was an interesting read. The book was selected by my book club and I enjoyed the first person narrative....more info
- Thank You, Negative Reviewers!
Thank you, negative reviewers! The little book club that I'm in picked "A Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks. Before blindly buying it, this time I researched the negative reviews. The wonderfully articulate (and often humorous) reviews described exactly the kind of trite book I despise. Without having read it, I will happily consign "A Year of Wonders" to my round file with other commercially-successful clap-trap, such as "Bridges of Madison County", "Prince of Tides", and, yes, "The Kite Runner".
Among the many perceptive reviewers, I would like to thank:
marcinetta "marcinetta" (NYC)
Pied Piper "lm14431oberon" (Cullowhee, N.C. United States) -
Loraine (Lamar, Colorado)
C. C. "Traveler" (Traveler) - See all my reviews
M. J Leonard "MikeonAlpha" (Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA
A Jaded Reader(Ocean, NJ)
Minnesota mom (Rochester, MN)
L. Merrick "lvmerrick"
Andrew Mayer "ajax_816" (Portola Valley, CA USA)
Keep up the good work, folks. You are being read!
- Woman against Nature......Woman Wins!
This book was loaned to me by a friend who thought I'd appreciate this powerful story of a young wife and mother who has no choice but to take charge and step outside the domestic boundaries of her life in a small English village, slowly and insidiously being invaded by the black plague. This story is grounded in fact as the village does exist today and historical records confirm that it was quarantined as a plague village, where provisions were left outside the village boundaries to keep the villagers from starving and the plague contained. This book really is about boundaries, physical, social, moral and personal. Ultimately it is a story of empowerment and triumph.
Many historians credit the massive loss of life and devastation caused by the plague in Europe with the breakdown of the rigid social class structure,the rise of a sense of self determination in the lower classes and the first chink in the armor of the Church. People wandered the countryside in bands, flogging themselves and calling out to God to take pity upon them, believing it was brought upon them as a punishment for their sins. Wealth, power, social standing or a spotless soul could not protect them from the plague. The great leveler.
As they watched their innocent children die, their faith died as well and they looked for those who lived at the fringes of society as possible causes of the plague, believing they were either an abomination to God or in league with the devil. The physically deformed, the mentally ill and Jews were tortured and burned as were women who had supplied their neighbors with herbal remedies, delivered the village babies and been the only source of medical help many had ever known. Such was the case in this small village and at enormous risk to herself the heroine in this story takes matters of life and death into her own hands as she watches those around her,including her small children die an excruciating death from the plague. She enters into a deep friendship and collaboration with a very wise woman,the wife of the village cleric, and together they breach the accepted boundaries of religious, social and medical practice of their day. Again at great peril, as they work feverishly to break the grip of the plague in their village. We're also reminded in a twist in this story that we often make assumptions about those we believe we know so well, and that a public facade can hide great private pain.
In the end, the plague left unspeakable agony and chaos behind, but also the opportunity for a renaissance for the survivors. The complete breakdown of all of society's barriers, as happened throughout Europe in the time of the plague,liberated those left alive and changed the world profoundly. Our heroine is no exception and the ending is very satisfying if a little implausible. This is why I gave it four stars. Nevertheless, a very good read by a very talented writer! ...more info
- Wonderful Story
I really enjoyed this book. It is a wonderful historical fiction story with rich charactors. It gave an insight of how small villages may have dealt with the plague and how it affected them and their family, friends and neighbors. I found the whole subject very interesting and the story captivating.I could not put it down. A must read!!!...more info
Year of Wonders, a novel of the Plague, is aptly titled. Set in 1665-66 this book not only tells the story of a community dealing with the crisis of the plague it also sets us to wondering about epidemics over the ages. Our world has delt with a multitude of virulent diseases such as smallpox, polio, influenza, and leprosy (to name a few) and has managed to conquer these diseases that were once considered a death sentence. More recently AIDS and Ebola have reared their ugly heads and presented a challenge to men of science. In todays world we realize that these diseases have a scientific basis and potential cure. Year of Wonders examines the thought processes of our ancestors who believed that disease and natural catastrophes were caused either by an angry God seeking retribution for our many sins, or were the works of the devil bestowing his evil via an earthly vessel, ie., a witch or warlock.
Based on the actual events that took place in the English mining town of Eyam, we observe the people of this village through the eyes of Anna, a housemaid at the local rectory who, following the death of her husband, takes in a border in the person of a tailor who has fled London and the Black Death. He becomes the first plague victim in Eyam. As the disease begins to spread, the villagers lead by their Vicar, decide to quarantine themselves in order to prevent the disease from spreading . Like a creeping fog, death visits each house in the community and as it does, the reader becomes an active participant in the panic, despair, rage and superstition that overtakes the village and drives its people to commit heinous acts in their futile attempt to survive.
While the vicar is instrumental in the decision of the village to quarantine itself to prevent the disease from spreading to other towns, it is the women of this story, Anna, Mem Gowdie, and Mem's niece Anys who are ultimately the shining stars of this drama.
If you experience a vicarious thrill by immersing yourself in historically based fiction, then you are in for a real treat with this offering from Geraldine Brooks
- Unusual last chapter...
There have been many great reviews written about this book, so there's not much more that I can add except to say, like some other reviewers, I loved this book up until the last chapter.
It's not that the last chapter is necessarily "bad", it's just that it seems as if another book all of a sudden stepped in and took over. A four star recommendation from me only because of this....more info