Thursday, July 29, 2010

Year of Wonders

By Geraldine Brooks

Its the 1660s and the young village woman Anna had a pretty good life, a strong, loving husband and two healthy, vigorous young boys. She was blessed, she knew it and was grateful to God. But then it all went horribly wrong. Her husband died in a mine collapse. But she managed to cope, working part time as a maid and she also took in a border, a tailor from London.
The tailor had recently moved to the village in an effort to escape the plague that was currently making life hell in the big city. People were dying in droves, in such numbers that the gravediggers didn't have time to dig individual graves so people were being tossed into bigs pits and buried. The tailor was so glad to be away from the plague zone. He was a nice young man and seemed to take a liking not only to Anna but to her two youngsters also. He even made Anna a beautiful dress as a gift, a dress unlike any she had ever owned. But the dress ended up in the fire because some cloth the tailor had ordered from London came with something extra...plague.
Pretty soon the tailor was dead and Anna's two boys soon sickened too. Since no one really understood the source of the disease, it spread rapidly. The village took the brave step of voluntarily isolating itself from the rest of England, setting up boundaries beyond which no villager would go and no outsider would pass. They managed to maintain the boundary even as the disease ravaged them, even as the stress and horror turned them against each other.

This was a pretty engrossing story about Anna's struggles & about how the village coped with the crisis. It starts out kind of strange in that it begins the autumn after the plague first appeared, so Anna's husband and children are already dead. Then it switches to the time before the plague, with the husband and children all alive and happy and all the bad stuff yet to come, basically adding details to the bare bones of which you already know from the first chapter. Yet, despite knowing the basic ending, the story is still fascinating, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. Imagine, a whole village voluntarily quarantining itself and having the resolve and courage to maintain that quarantine through the worse crisis they ever faced. An the amazing thing about it is that there really was a village in England during the time of the plague that did exactly that. It is based on a true story.

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