Adult News, Reviews & Information
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 11:11am
Year of Wonders is a historical fiction novel based on the story of Eyam, a village in Derbyshire in the East Midlands of England. In 1665 the town's tailor received a package of cloth from plague ravaged London. The package contained infested fleas, and the disease quickly spread throughout the village. The Reverand William Mompesson and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley urged the villagers to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the disease to nearby villages. The heroic actions of the town are credited with saving much of England from the plague. Yet due to their sacrifice, two thirds of the town perished.
Year of Wonders published in 2001, was the first work of fiction by Geraldine Brooks, a former correspondent and non-fiction writer. It tells the story of Anna Frith, a poor farm widow and housemaid to the rector (renamed Michael Mompellion). In order to quarantine the town, villagers must leave payment in vinegar soaked coins on a stone on the edge of the village. People from surrounding villages pick up the payment and leave provisions. Other measure are taken, such as religious services are held outside in the open so that families can stand away from each other. As the plague spreads, Anna ministers to the sick and develops a close friendship with the rector's wife Elinor. Together they learn ancient, gentle ways to use herbs to comfort the ill and are a strong force for good amidst the mayhem. Anna finds hope in the darkness and begins to grow and trust herself.
If you are a fan of dramatic historical fiction and British period pieces, this novel is for you. It contains a good amount of romance, drama, mystery, and even allegations of witchcraft. Geraldine Brooks skillful recreation of a 17th century English village magically takes you back to this amazing time in history. Year of Wonders would make a great book club choice, as there are plenty of ethical topics to discuss, from religious questions to class divisions to the reasons for the town's famous and courageous sacrifice.
Thu, 11/14/2013 - 3:37pm
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
(translation of El ruido de las cosas al caer)
Antonio is a young law professor in Bogota, Colombia during the height of the drug violence of the Pablo Escobar era. Assassinations are a daily occurrence and the bogotanos live in fear. To escape the depression of the city, Antonio spends his time in his local pool hall where he meets a mysterious character named Ricardo. Ricardo has a past that he’d rather not talk about. He might have been a pilot at some point. He might have spent time in prison. Maybe one has something to do with the other. Just as Antonio is getting his new friend to fill in some pieces of his story, Ricardo is gunned down in the street. But Antonio won’t let him become just another assassination among many. He has to find out his story.
We follow Antonio on his adventures to find out the truth about his friend. Along the way we get to see Colombia and the effects of drug violence on the country. We see a man coping with the loss of a friend he barely knew and how his obsession with his friend’s past affects his career and family life. It’s a good read and the 2011 winner of the prestigious Alfaguara Prize for literature in Spanish. The mystery of Ricardo’s past is intriguing enough to keep the reader interested, although sometimes I felt like Vásquez wandered a little too far off the main story. There’s a lot of emotion in the book as we see the characters dealing with loss, fear, and despair about what has happened in the their country, but the sadness is interlaced with joy and love and a man’s commitment to a friend.
Thu, 11/07/2013 - 2:59pm
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a psychological novel that touches on family, communication, lack of family communication, and memory. It is a story of loss, and the possibilities of recovery from loss, even if only partial.
The narrator, Rosemary, admits that her recollection is not perfect, but her account of her family's disruption from losing her sister pulled me through the story in less than a day and a half. The story starts in the middle, just as garrulous little Rosemary was advised to start in the middle during her childhood (by adults who wanted to hear less). Starting in the middle allows her to hide the most important detail about Fern, her lost sister, from us until the middle of the book. The story was well written, with some clever language (facilitated by setting up the narrator as a clever, if damaged, person) without obviously contrived punchlines. The supporting characters range from her psychology professor father to her brother (wanted by the F.B.I.) to a wild-child theatre major with whom she gets arrested on the day they meet. Adding a few props, like a ventriloquist's dummy in a suitcase that should have contained diaries from Rosemary's mother, packs the clown car for an interesting ride.
I am now going to look for Fowler's other books. I have seen the most press on The Jane Austen Book Club, so I may try that next.