After a busy, busy week, I gave myself over to the pleasure of sitting in the recliner and reading a book: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. My first encounter with Brooks was when I read Nine Parts of Desire, her non-fiction book about Muslim women in various countries in the Middle East. As a journalist, Brooks is an impeccable researcher who manages to uncover an amazing array of facts with which to compliment her story. She is also adept with language and writes an enthralling literary account, be the work non-fiction or fiction.
Year of Wonders is the fictional account of a mountain village in England where the plague breaks out. Over the course of one year-- from the spring of 1665 through the fall of 1666 – Anna Firth, a housemaid tells the story about the villagers' extraordinary choice to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of the disease beyond village boundaries. This is story of love, fear, and hate, of courage, treachery, and compassion. Brooks manages to artfully weave in an amazing amount of historical research related to mining, medicine, healing, midwifery, farming, lambing, and the Anglican and Puritan religions. The book is filled with page turning suspense and unfathomable grief as the plague makes its way from household to household decimating the population.
But this is not just a sad story. Anna explores the existential question "Why do such things happen?" Her struggle mirrors the dilemma of the world at her time, one that continues until this day: the struggle between religion and science. As Anna and the townspeople grapple with the question of why, so does the reader. After facing the horrors of the year, Anna says, "I cannot say that I have faith anymore. Hope, perhaps. We have agreed that it will do for now."
Brooks maintains a break-neck pace, sprinkling the story-telling with the language of the day in an unobtrusive manner, so that I felt immersed in another place and time. I read non-stop almost all day, munching chocolate chip cookies through the tough parts and sipping ice-water as I enjoyed the wonders of this book.