Year of Wonders (Brooks)

The Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
Geraldine Brooks, 2002
Knopf Doubleday
308 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780142001431

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" (Wall Street Journal), Brooks blends love and learning, loss and renewal into a spellbinding and unforgettable read. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 14, 1955
Raised—Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia
Education—B.A., Sydney University; M.A. Columbia University (USA)
Awards—Pulitzer Prize
Currently—lives in Virginia, USA

Geraldine Brooks s an Australian American journalist and author whose 2005 novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While retaining her Australian passport, she became an United States citizen in 2002.

Early life
A native of Sydney, Geraldine Brooks grew up in its inner-west suburb of Ashfield, where she attended Bethlehem College, a secondary school for girls, and the University of Sydney.

Following graduation, she became a rookie reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and, after winning a Greg Shackleton Memorial Scholarship, moved to New York City in the United States, completing a Master's at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1983. The following year, she married American journalist Tony Horwitz in the Southern France village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup and converted to his religion, Judaism.

As a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, she covered crises in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, with the stories from the Persian Gulf which she and her husband reported in 1990, receiving the Overseas Press Club's Hal Boyle Award for "Best Newspaper or Wire Service Reporting from Abroad." In 2006, she was awarded a fellowship at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Brooks's first book, Nine Parts of Desire (1994), based on her experiences among Muslim women in the Middle East, was an international bestseller, translated into 17 languages. Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over (1997), which won the Nita Kibble Literary Award for women's writing, was a memoir and travel adventure about a childhood enriched by penpals from around the world, and her adult quest to find them.

Her first novel, Year of Wonders, published in 2001, became an international bestseller. Set in 1666, the story depicts a young woman's battle to save fellow villagers as well as her own soul when the bubonic plague suddenly strikes her small Derbyshire village of Eyam.

Her next novel, March (2005), was inspired by her fondness for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, which her mother had given her. To connect that memorable reading experience to her new status in 2002 as an American citizen, she researched the Civil War historical setting of Little Women and decided to create a chronicle of wartime service for the "absent father" of the March girls.

Some aspects of this chronicle were informed by the life and philosophical writings of the Alcott family patriarch, Amos Bronson Alcott, whom she profiled under the title "Orpheus at the Plow", in the 10 January 2005 issue of The New Yorker, a month before March was published. The parallel novel was generally well received by the critics. It was selected in December 2005 selection by the Washington Post as one of the five best fiction works published that year. In April 2006, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In her next novel, People of the Book (2008), Brooks explored a fictionalized history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. This novel was inspired by her reporting (for The New Yorker) of human interest stories emerging in the aftermath of the 1991–95 breakup of Yugoslavia. The novel won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.

Her 2011 novel Caleb's Crossing is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a Wampanoag convert to Christianity who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, an achievement of the seventeenth century.

Her next work, The Secret Chord (2015) is a historical novel based on the life of the biblical King David in the period of the Second Iron Age.

2006 - Pulitzer Prize for March
2008 - Australian Publishers Association's Fiction Book of the Year for People of the Book
2009 - Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award
2010 - Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award
(From Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/14/2015.)

Book Reviews
In 1666 the bubonic plague appeared in a small mountain village in England, where it took hold and spread.... The author has captured the various human responses to grief, fear, hopelessness, and exhaustion. Characters are well drawn, showing both the good and evil sides of human nature —Joanna M. Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence
Library Journal

Painstaking re-creation of 17th-century England, swallowed by over-the-top melodramatics: a wildly uneven first novel by an Australian-born journalist.... It's all more than a bit much: Thomas Hardy crossed with Erskine Caldwell, with more than a whiff of Jane Eyre.... In between the more hysterical moments, Brooks writes quite beautifully. But Year of Wonders was a mistake.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. All of the characters in this novel have their failings and as a result they are all fully human. Are you surprised by the secrets Elinor and Michael Mompellion each reveal to Anna about their marriage? How do they change your feelings about each character? Do they make either seem weaker in a way?

2. The Bradford family bears the brunt of Mompellion's rage when they leave town to save themselves. However, weren't they only doing what every other noble family did in those days: run because they had the means to run? Setting aside the events near the end of the novel (which make it clear that one would be hard-pressed to find a redeeming quality in any of them), can you really blame the Bradfords for running?

3. How much of Mompellion's push for the quarantine had to do with the secrets he shared with Elinor? Did his own dark side and self-loathing push him to sacrifice the town or was he really acting out of everyone's best interests?

4, Keeping in mind that this story takes place a good twenty-five years before the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, what is the role of the Gowdie women in the novel? What is it about these women that drives their neighbors to murderous rage? How does their nonconformity lead to their becoming scapegoats?

5. How would you explain Anna's mental and spiritual unraveling? What are the pivotal experiences leading up to her breakdown and her eventual rebirth?

6. Discuss the feminist undertones of the story. How does each female character—Anna, Elinor, the Gowdies, and even Anna's stepmother—exhibit strengths that the male characters do not?

7. In a story where the outcome is already known from the very beginning—most of the villagers will die—discuss the ways in which the author manages to create suspense.

8. The author creates an incredible sense of time and place with richly textured language and thoughtful details—of both the ordinary (everyday life in Eyam) and the extraordinary (the gruesome deaths of the villagers). Discuss some of the most vivid images and their importance to the story and to your own experience reading it.

9. Can we relate the story of this town's extraordinary sacrifice to our own time? Is it unrealistic to expect a village facing a similar threat to make the same decision nowadays? What lessons might we learn from the villagers of Eyam?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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