Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks
9780142001431, Penguin, $15
Beautiful, heartbreaking, well-researched, richly envisioned, this book is a must-read for all lovers of historical fiction. Geraldine Brooks imagines what it must have been like for the people of the village of Eyam, in England, who, in 1666, voluntarily isolated themselves from the rest of England and Europe in order to contain the ravages of the Plague to their own village.
Told from the point of view of Anna Frith, a housemaid to the new pastor and his wife, the reader is introduced to this simple, ordinary village, who attempts an extraordinary, self-less act. We learn of Anna's family, her miner husband and two sons; her drunken father, neglectful stepmother, and younger step-siblings; the village healer and her granddaughter; the politics of the new Pastor and his beautiful wife; the rich family on the hill who are patrons and the social leaders of the town; and the various other townspeople - miners, farmers, blacksmith, tavern owner, etc. - who make up small-town life.
When the Plague strikes, it is to a boarder Anna has taken in after her husband was killed in a mining accident. Coming from the city, the boarder doesn't realize the material he has brought as part of his tailor trade is infected with the seeds of Plague. One-by-one, villagers are struck down. The inspiring young Pastor must do what he can to hold the people of the village together, and also to keep the Plague from spreading. As the village closes themselves off, they're left with nowhere to turn with their sorrow and anger but upon themselves. Rumors run wild as people try to determine what keeps causing the spread of Plague; neighbors will not help each other for fear of catching it. It is up to the Pastor, the Pastor's wife, and Anna, to tend the sick, minister to the dying, and try to keep the civil unrest under control.
When will the sickness run its course? When will the year be over? And who will be left alive at the end?