Year of Wonders

Year of WondersYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would have given this 5 stars except for the rather unbelievable ending. Already taking historical license with facts and characters to create melodrama, it kind of jumped the shark at that point. But I loved the overall writing which was lyrical and richly textured, and puts you right in that time and place. Here is a strong and introspective (though anachronistic) woman that makes you think about what you would do, and how you would behave in these circumstances. It runs the gamut of human emotions – love, hate, fear, self-sacrifice, self-preservation, greed, grief, and madness. Ultimately, though, it failed to show me what was wonderful about having survived, and did a disservice to the real minister of Eyam, William Mompesson.

Book Description (from back cover): When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice: convinced by a visionary young minister they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her communtity, and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”

People of the Book

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I have to get this off my chest first of all: do not get the audiobook! I got through it, but I would have enjoyed it much more without the narrator’s very annoying accents that made every foreigner (except Australian) sound stupid and drunken. Do Hebrew/Yiddish speakers really pronounce every single English word beginning with H as aspirated? I also had a very hard time following each shift backwards in time. I’m not sure that would have been easier in a print version. I simply could not get an overall picture of the travels of this remarkable haggadah (the telling of the Passover story) from place to place, and owner to owner. Much of that is probably supposition. I did enjoy the individual vignettes of each time period. I also liked the description of the modern-day researcher, Hanna Heath, as she puzzled over the tiny artifacts found in the manuscript. However, the other side-plots did nothing for me. The love story went nowhere. The relationship with her mother went no where. A good book, but I have read better ones from Geraldine Brooks.

Book Description: Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force” by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.