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Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague Paperback – April 30, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack up and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. The narrator, the young widow Anna Frith, is one of the few who succeeds. With Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, she tends to the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence, and superstition. All is complicated by the intense, inexpressible feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife. Year of Wonders sometimes seems anachronistic as historical fiction; Anna and Mompellion occasionally appear to be modern sensibilities unaccountably transferred to 17th-century Derbyshire. However, there is no mistaking the power of Brooks's imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances. --Nick Rennison, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Discriminating readers who view the term historical novel with disdain will find that this debut by praised journalist Brooks (Foreign Correspondence) is to conventional work in the genre as a diamond is to a rhinestone. With an intensely observant eye, a rigorous regard for period detail, and assured, elegant prose, Brooks re-creates a year in the life of a remote British village decimated by the bubonic plague. Inspired by the actual town commemorated as Plague Village because of the events that transpired there in 1665-1666, Brooks tells her harrowing story from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith, a widow with two young sons. Anna works as a maid for vicar Michael Mompellion and his gentle, selfless wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. When bubonic plague arrives in the community, the vicar announces it as a scourge sent by God; obeying his command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world. The vicar behaves nobly as he succors his dwindling flock, and his wife, aided by Anna, uses herbs to alleviate their pain. As deaths mount, however, grief and superstition evoke mob violence against "witches," and cults of self-flagellation and devil worship. With the facility of a prose artist, Brooks unflinchingly describes barbaric 17th-century customs and depicts the fabric of life in a poor rural area. If Anna's existential questions about the role of religion and ethical behavior in a world governed by nature seem a bit too sophisticated for her time, Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity. (Aug. 6)Forecast: Brooks should be a natural on talk shows as she tells of discovering the town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, in 1990, and her research to unearth its remarkable history. With astute marketing, Viking will have a winner here. BOMC, Literary Guild and QPB featured alternates; 8-city author tour; rights sold in England, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (891 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of the novels Caleb's Crossing, People of the Book, March (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006) and Year of Wonders. She has also written two works of non-fiction: Nine Parts of Desire, based on her experiences among Muslim women in the mideast, and Foreign Correspondence, a quirky memoir about an Australian childhood enriched by penpals around the world and her adult quest to find them. Brooks started out as a reporter in her hometown, Sydney, and went on to cover conflicts as a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She now lives on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts with her husband Tony Horwitz, two sons, a horse named Butter and a dog named Milo.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

281 of 298 people found the following review helpful By "moonglow22" on August 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I was first given this book, I thought, "Oh great, a book about The Plague. How depressing." To be honest, if it had not been lent to me, i probably would not have even picked it up. But by the third page, I was hooked. Not only is the story, about a small English village that tries to control the spread of The Plague, brought in by a bolt of fabric, by quarantining themselves, it is the story of a remarkable woman, Anna Frith. Anna is a widow (her husband being killed before the Plague) who loses nearly everything-her children, her friends, her sanity-to this terrible disease. While The Plague ravages her friends and neighbors, Anna does everything she can to save them, and completes feats (midwifery, iron mining) that she never thought hersef capable of. The book is incredibly well written; Brooks uses the vernacular of the time to great effect, but in such a way that it seems completely normal. It sounds cliched, but I truly could not put this book down. A truly surprising delight; I recommend it for any fans of Anita Shreve (who gives an endorsement for the book.)
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219 of 234 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Carpenter on September 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There's a lot to like about Geraldine Brooks' _Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague_. At its best, this novel is an evocative, well-written historical fiction that skillfully conjures up the day-to-day hardships of living in a small village overrun by plague and watching two-thirds of your friends, family, and acquaintances die horrible deaths. I really liked the focus on the diurnal struggles of a village increasingly depleted of its human resources. What do you do when the women who always prepared herbal remedies are dead? When young children are left parentless? The main character, Anna Frith, is a strong woman and something of a feminist role model; the plague brings out resources in her that she didn't know she had.
Unfortunately, this novel is itself infected in places by melodrama and purple prose. There are a couple of minor eruptions early in the novel, but the big problem for this book resides in the last 30-40 pages. If the novel had ended on page 272, it would have been a much stronger novel. Regrettably, it continues until page 308. About five HUGE plot developments happen in this short space, which is startling enough in a novel that has been so well-paced up until this point, and several of them seem stretch credulity thin. There is also a surprisingly misogynistic passage from a previously likeable character in these final pages which really turned me off and seemed entirely inconsistent with everything we've learned about this character up until this point.
I would still recommend this novel, as it does so much so well, but with the caveat that its quality rather falls off in the end.
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99 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Peter on August 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Based on an actual event and real persons, author Geraldine Brooks tells a fascinating tale of a village in rural 17th century England that experiences a sudden outbreak of plague. The citizens seal themselves off from the outside world to avoid spreading the disease to neighboring villages and to give themselves up to God's mercy. The "year of wonders" experienced by the residents of this stricken community is told through the eyes of an intelligent and couragous young widow, Anna Frith. Brooks' imagery is bright and alive - the reader experiences the sights and smells of this world, the hope and despair of the characters and the gradual disintegration of their faith. The plague brings out the noblest and the basest of human behavior and Anna herself achieves things she never would have attempted in any other circumstances.
Because the majority of this book was so well written, I was quite disappointed in the ending which seemed rushed and contrived, almost as if the publisher had grown impatient and directed Brooks to wrap it up by the end of the day. I won't spoil the ending, but readers of Albert Camus' novel on the same subject will groan inwardly at Brooks' little joke in her placement of the final scene.
Despite the ending, I recommend this book highly for its clear, concise style, vivid imagery, and realistic portrayal of human beings immersed in a long and tragic fight for survival and search for meaning.
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153 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on August 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders is a terrific novel. I encourage all to overcome the intimidating fact that the novel is about the plague and diver right in to the work. Year of Wonders is an intelligent, engaging, emotional read--very well done indeed. Anna Firth is a survivor, in many ways. She survives the plague which utterly decimates her village. When the plague arrives, she has already lived through much. Her father abused her and her husband has died in a mining accident, left her a widow with two young children, at the ripe age of 18. As disease rips through her village, Anna works with the minister's wife, trying to provide some solace, some comfort to the rest of the village. The plague is not the only killer in these times for several townspeople are killed by hatred, jealousy and prejudice. The plague ultimately leaves the village and Anna is a changed person, which sounds trite, I know, but in the novel, it's not. This novel is so fabulous, Anna's emotions so real. There were parts of this novel that literally had me in tears. I highly, highly recommend this novel. It is a wonderful and most enjoyable read.
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