“I’ll never read another book like this,” a women in the library recently said when returning a paperback copy of “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks. She went on to say how much she enjoyed the writing and the story, “oh, the story!” We agreed that the writing style is beautiful, and done in a way that is not common with books published today. There is an old-time feel to the way the author uses language, as if it was written a hundred years ago. The sentences are delicate and graceful, even when they tell of suffering and death.
“Year of Wonders” is historical fiction, set in a small mountain village of England in 1666 during the plague. The author bases the location of her story on a real “Plague Village,” Eyam, Derbyshire. In the story, based on true events, the plague ravishes the people of the village. The lives of those who live on as so many perish, and how the loss changes their lives forever is the basis for the story.
The book’s protagonist, Anna, shows us a dark year in her small mountain village. We see mothers lose their children to illness; we see grave after grave being dug only to have people die faster than new holes can be made. Amid the loss, we see the wealthy flee the village only to leave the disadvantaged even worse off; we see differences in religious beliefs be the fire that excommunicates neighbors from one another. As the year wears on, madness takes hold, causing even more destruction among the villagers.
In the end, Anna is the light at the end of a dark time and hope from a year of horrors. She is a character I will not soon forget.
This book was recommended by a member of the Third Monday book group, and selected by the group for our May talk. The story lends itself to a book group discussion with its vivid characters overcoming unfathomable hardships and facing moral dilemmas. However, reading about the bubonic plague during a pandemic makes parts of the story feel a little more real than it may during another time. For book groups with members curious how the horrors of a historic widespread disease mirror what we have known over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a great choice for discussion.
Place a hold on “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks through the Minot-Sleeper Library.
BBC News article “Eyam plague: The village of the damned”
BBC News article “Coronavirus: What can the ‘plague village” of Eyam teach us?”
Eyam Museum website (I highly recommend looking at the virtual museum shop to find the Black Death stuffed toy and rat bunting!)
Want to visit? Check out the Eyam Historic Plague Village website for information on lodging, events, and more.