‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones

I have seen this book get rave reviews when it came out but honestly, at the time, it wasn’t high on my TBR list. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have read it at all had I not received it as a gift. And yet again, I would have missed out on a great book.

Given the current racial tensions in the United States following the death of George Floyd, this was a good book to read to give some perspective on African American issues. Granted it is fiction, but once again, the fiction narrative provides a realistic picture of what minorities face by the police and justice system. But this book goes into so much more.

Roy and Celeste are happily married, making plans to have children, open a business and Roy to move up in his job, when suddenly their world is torn apart. A woman falsely identifies Roy as being at the scene of a crime and despite Celeste providing testimony to the contrary, Roy is convicted. And it all comes down to the fact that Roy is African American. Jones highlights everything that is wrong with the justice system and the racism embedded in it. But the arrest is just one part of the story.

What Tayari also shines a light on is the impact these decisions have on these families and how even love can only go so far. What happens to each of these characters is understandable and yet infuriating. I was angry with Celeste at what she does but at the same time I couldn’t help wondering if I wouldn’t have done the same thing. As she says, she is innocent. She didn’t ask for any of this to happen, but at the same time, neither did Roy. In some ways I thought Roy was being selfish, but other times I could totally understand how he felt. In an essay about the book, Jones says she purposely makes the situation where none of the characters are right or wrong. And by doing so, the reader is presented with a full picture on how this can impact everyone and you are left with a bundle of mixed emotions with no one to direct them at.

While the ending is bittersweet, I honestly don’t think it would have worked any other way. No one would have been happy and while it is hard to give up something such as love, sometimes letting go is the best decision for everyone involved.

It’s been a few weeks since I read this but I still think about it. It has made a few lists of fiction book recommendations that deal with African American issues or experiences. I would highly recommend it.


Have you read “An American Marriage”? What did you think? What other books that deal with minority issues would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood

I’m beginning to think that Margaret Atwood has the gift of foresight. How else can you explain her knack for writing a dystopian novel that in reality, doesn’t seem quite unrealistic? First, it was “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was written in the 1980s and is as relevant today as before. Now, I finish “Oryx and Crake” and I can’t helping feeling the same thing.

In the open pages of Oryx and Crake the reader is introduced to Snowman, who is all alone, half dressed in a tattered sheet with bug bites and scabs. He is alone except for the children, who at first glance appear to be native children that can’t understand Snowman. You can’t help wonder if he is a foreigner or are they? However the answer is neither. For Snowman is the only human left on earth after a viral plague wipes out mankind. The children are not entirely human or human in the everyday sense of the word. Doesn’t sound so far off does it?

What is even more scary is how this plague comes to be. In true fashion, Atwood is no secret to reveal the answer too quickly. Through flashbacks, the reader goes back to pre-plague, to uncover the story that Snowman – or Jimmy as he referred to then – has to tell. Back to the days when you either lived in the Pleeblands (the world as we know it) or the compounds where things are orderly and safe. The compounds consist of scientists or workers for a scientific agency, which is focused on making everything in the world better, safer, healthier, last longer – through scientific modification.

What is scary is how close to reality this book comes. It’s almost as if Atwood took what she saw going on in the scientific community and then took it a few steps further by thinking of the worst possible scenario. I mean this book was written in the early 2000s and yet, they have things that are being introduced to society now. Plant-based meat was not a thing until a few years ago, but it is in this book. Then the virus? We know that there is a plague, as is given in the summary on the back cover, but how or why, is painfully revealed slowly. While the virus is different, what happens is eerily all too much reality at the moment. It almost makes you wonder whether some of the conspiracy theorists about COVID-19 are on to something.

I loved the false sense of security that Atwood sets up with all the characters and the relationships between them. For example Jimmy and Crake are best friends, and you know that since Jimmy is now alone that something happened to Crake, but what? Did Jimmy watch his friend die a brutal death or did they have a falling out before then?

Then there is the whole love story between Jimmy and Oryx, who meet in the most unexpected circumstances. Given their history, you wonder if they are going to actually be together. Then when just as your cheering for Jimmy to finally have found his person, the rug is pulled again.

For the duration of the reader is sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for the shoe to fall, waiting for when the big reveal will happen until it does in the most unexpected way. Then you just want to flip back to the beginning because you feel like you missed something. There had to be an Easter egg somewhere.

This is definitely a great read, but if the current happenings in the world are freaking you out, it may be better to wait a bit. I am not one to read series or trilogies but I must say that I am definitely intrigued about what happens in this dystopian world.


Have you read “Oryx and Crake”? What other dystopian novels have you read recently? Let’s discuss!

‘Two for the Dough’ by Janet Evanovich

I read “One for the Money” about two years ago after a friend recommended it. I loved it and wanted to continue to read the Plum series and finally got around to the sequel, “Two for the Dough.” Though I will say that I wasn’t as engaged with the sequel as I was with the first one. Maybe it is just the story line, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I began to enjoy it.

This time bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has been tasked with picking up Kenny Mancusco, who has jumped bail. Stephanie thinks it is going to be an easy pickup, except for the fact that noone has seen Kenny, including his cousin, Joe Morelli, who also happens to be a cop that is constantly getting in Stephanie’s way. Then Kenny’s best friend ends up shot and a cache of guns and caskets go missing, but as Stephanie continues to search for the elusive Kenny, dead body parts begin showing up on her doorstep and Stephanie finds herself once again in danger. She knows she must find Kenny to end it.

I think why I dragged at the start of this book was that there was no brief recap. Traditionally in sequels or series, the author will throw in a paragraph or two to explain key elements to refresh the reader on who some of the characters were. Having read the first book so awhile back, I was trying to remember exactly what happened and who was who. I totally forgot that Joe Morelli was the one that Stephanie was trying to nab in the first book, though it was a misunderstanding. While Evanovich does say that they do have a history, it wasn’t clear what that history was. If someone were reading this book first, they would just assume that Stephanie and Morelli have been dating on and off. Considering that this book started right in the middle of a stakeout, I was feeling adrift and it took some time to get my bearings.

The saving grace in this book is Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur. I swear she is the best character. That woman is an absolute hoot. Throughout the book, she tags along with Stephanie to funeral parlors where the most ridiculous things happen, from caskets accidentally opening to things breaking and so on. Whenever Grandma Mazur is around, something is bound to happen. And the words that come out of her mouth are classic.

I swear, if Stephanie’s mother is not my own mother, I will eat my hat. I couldn’t help but cringe with Stephanie when she had to move briefly back home to keep a watch on Grandma. I swear as soon as her mother started in, I thought my mother had entered the book. The dialogue was straight from my own family, who happen to live in New Jersey. I could definitely relate, which is why I keep coming back for more. This book is all about the characters and Evanovich does them so well.

Overall, while the book had its faults, it still a fun read for when you want something light. Evanovich’s writing is simple and again, the characters will definitely keep you turning the pages.


Have you read “Two for the Dough?” What did you think? Let’s discuss!

 

Book Club Discussion: ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll

For the month of June, the Society for Avid Readers Across the Hudson (SARAH) Book Club read Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Most of the group had read the book as a child so this was a reread for many, except for yours truly. I had never read the book but was quite familiar with the story, having grown up on the Disney movie and later watching the Tim Burton version.

If you don’t know the story, a young girl name Alice is sitting with her sister one day when she suddenly sees a white rabbit. While a rabbit isn’t extraordinary, the fact that this one can talk and seems to be watching the time on a pocketwatch has little Alice intrigued. She decides to follow the rabbit, and ends up down the rabbit hole. After falling for what seems like eternity, she ends up in Wonderland and there she is introduced to a myriad of characters including the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and of course the evil Queen of Hearts, who does nothing but scream “Off with your head!”

This is a simple, fun read, especially for a child. While I did enjoy it, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was younger. The book itself is a bit surreal and nonsensical. Obviously when we get to the end, we understand why, but all the same, there were parts of the book where I couldn’t make heads or tales about what was going on or why. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way as many in the group said the same. Some even compared this book to feeling like they were on drugs. I guess it is a bit “trippy”, but I guess the best way to describe it can be summed up with the movies. The Disney version, which is obviously for kids, makes it exciting as we follow Alice on her adventures, while the Tim Burton movie is a bit unique to say the least. If you know Tim Burton’s movies, you know what I am talking about.

If you have seen the movies and are reading this book for the first time, you will think that the book has left out some characters or key elements that are in the movies. I came to find out that this is because the movies combine the book with it’s sequel, “Through the Looking Glass”, which I have obviously not read. Will I read it? That has yet to be determined.

The group also talked about how this book remain popular since it was first published in 1865 and how it continues to be referenced today in pop culture, from bands using it as inspiration in their music to popular English phrases such as “Mad as Hatter” or “Smiling like a Cheshire Cat”. The teacups at many amusements parks are inspired by this children’s classic and there is even a medical term called the Alice in Wonderland syndrome, where people perceives objects around them as smaller or larger than they are. This book has stood the test of time and should definitely be read at least once.


Have you read “Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland”? What did you think?

 

 

 

‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker

I had never heard about Pat Barker until my book club recommended “Regeneration”, the first book of a trilogy, for our new reading list. At first I was skeptical. We had read two “war” books and I didn’t finish either of them. Yet, this book was different. It focused more on the horrors that soldier face while on the front as well as the psychological impacts as a result. I finished this book over two weeks ago, but it took me awhile to get my thoughts straight.

It starts with Siegfried Sassoon who writes a memo refusing to continue serving as an officer in World War I because he doesn’t believe in the cause behind it. Diagnosed as “shell shocked” He is sent to Craiglockart War Hospital where he becomes the patient of Dr. William Rivers. Rivers doesn’t think that there is anything mentally wrong with Sassoon, but fears that he is anti-war and will make trouble. However, Rivers agrees to treat Sassoon and is determined to send him back to service.

While at the hospital, we are introduced to Rivers’ other patients, all soldiers who suffer from PTSD as a result of war trauma. David Burns is a patient who is unable to eat after a bomb throws him headlong into the gut of a rotting soldier; Billy Prior suffers from mutism whenever he is forced to remember what happened in the war as well as asthma, which prevents him from returning; and Anderson, a prior surgeon, has a mental breakdown and can’t stand the sight of blood.

Through these characters, we see how trauma is different in each individual and the journey each takes to heal. Through Rivers’ treatment, each learns to deal with their trauma in different ways. At the same time, Rivers begins to see his patients in a new way and begins to think that Sassoon may have had a point about the war. He begins to question whether the sole purpose of his treatment is to send soldiers back and for what reason. This is highlighted when Rivers goes to study another doctor who uses electroshock treatment to cure a different case of mutism. Rivers, who suffers from a stutter, is horrified.

Through the book, Barker highlights other themes including sexuality, masculinity, identity and social structure. While Billy is dating a woman in town, there are subtle hints that Billy may be gay or bisexual, though it is never clearly resolved. Also, when Prior is given home service due to his asthma, he thinks he will be seen as a coward. Even Sassoon decides to return to the war because of his guilt of leaving the other men behind.

Barker has a way of making you connect with each of the characters  so that you feel that you know each of them personally. While I have never been to war and could not possibly understand what soldiers go through, I felt like I was there with each them. There is so much packed into this book that I was startled when I got to the end and sad that I had to leave them. I originally had no plans to read the other two books in this trilogy, but now I feel invested and want to see how these characters make out. I can’t wait to talk about this book next week in book club.

‘The Book of Longings’ by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd is an author whose writing gets better and better as she goes along. I have read all of her novels and though I enjoyed her first two, I wasn’t awed by them. Then I read “Invention of Wings” and I didn’t think it could get any better. But all hail, Kidd’s newest tale “The Book of Longings.”

“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. I called him beloved, he laughingly, called me Little Thunder…”

So immediately you may think, wait, what? Jesus had a wife? There is a lot of debate about Jesus and what he may or may not have done during his life. There are arguments about whether Jesus may have married and started a family. Some would argue Jesus is God’s son and had only one purpose on earth, to save us from sin. He was above manly pleasures. And then there are others that simply point out that while this is true, Jesus was still in fact a man and would have had to live by the traditions and culture of the time. Therefore he was bound to marry and have children.

And while it is this point that Kidd seems to use as a foundation, this story is by no means about Jesus. It is about Ana, who ends up marrying Jesus. But who is she? I can tell you, now that I have gotten to know her, she is a strong, independent woman who would make the best of friends. In fact, I am quite sad that I had to part with her.

When we first meet her, Ana would rather spend her days with her papyrus and ink then fulfilling her womanly duties, i.e. get married, have children and tend to a house. She longs to be a scribe and forego all other responsibilities. But alas, the day comes when, to her horror, she finds her parents signing her marriage contract to an old widower. It’s bad enough she has to marry but to an old man?! But then she meets Jesus and everything changes.

As if by a twist of fate, Ana finds herself in the middle of a scandal that not only frees her from her unwanted marriage, but almost brings her to her own demise. Then Jesus agrees to marry her and everything seems to align.

I loved the relationship between Jesus and Ana, the playful banter between the two and more importantly the respect. The two understand each other’s desires and secret longings. Surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t expect Ana to give up her writing entirely when they marry. While he does ask her for some restraint, he does allow her some freedom to indulge in her passion, especially when the time calls for it.

While Ana’s life passes by, marked by the pivotal moments in Jesus’ life, from his meeting of John the Baptist to his ministry and finally his crucifixion, his story never overshadows hers. In fact, Ana and Jesus seem like any other couple. Kidd presents Jesus as a man who goes off to find work like any other. He is moved by the politics of the time and the anger among the Jews about the Romans who rule over them. The infamous Judas also plays a role as he is Ana’s half brother. We get to see him as the brother who goes out of his way to defend his sister but he is also the man who differs with Jesus on how to incite the Romans. While Jesus would rather use his ministry to show the people love, Judas wants to take up the sword, ultimately leading to the betrayal that he is known for. 

In the meantime, Ana has created her own infamy and when she involuntarily incites the wrath of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, she finds herself on her way to Egypt with her Aunt, another character that you can’t help but love. Yaltha is another strong female that doesn’t bend to her strong-willed family, even though her own scandalous past has determined her fate. She ends up being the strength that Ana relies on to get her through everything she endures. I loved the relationship between the two and wanted my own Aunt Yaltha who understood all my longings and I could tell all my secrets to.

In fact, there wasn’t a character I didn’t like in this book, other than Ana’s mother and Herod Antipas. Ana’s mother is vindictive and wants only what is best for herself. As for Herod Antipas, he was just evil, pure and simple. But even then they were central to Ana’s story and helped her become who she becomes.

From the first page, this story grabs you and doesn’t let go. It’s as if Kidd has weaved some magical powers in these pages, that makes you forget where you are. Every time I picked up this book, I was immediately transported back to Sepphoris or Egypt. I would forget I was sitting on my couch in upstate NY until I would look up from reading. I would actually be disappointed and would want to read more just to go back. It’s been a few days since I finished this book and I am still thinking about it. It is definitely a 5 out of 5.

 

‘Orphan Train’ by Christina Baker Kline

Yet again, I have learned more from a fictional book than I have from the history books growing up. Before reading “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline, I had no clue about the program in the late 1800s, early 1900s to transport orphaned or homeless children from the east coast to the midwest in the hopes of finding them homes. While you would think that this would be a heartwarming story of children finding a new life, it wasn’t always that way, as some kids ended up in an abusive environment or were ended up more impoverished than they were previously.

Christina Baker Kline uses this moment in history to create an emotional tale that is divided into two story lines – one focused on present day where 17-year-old Molly Ayer is trying to adjust in her new foster home in Maine, one of many since her parents died. The other goes back a few decades to tell the story of young Irish immigrant named Niamh who has recently lost her parents to a horrific fire in New York and finds herself boarding a train with hundreds of other orphaned children to a destination unknown in the midwest.

In an attempt to keep from getting thrown out of her latest foster arrangement after getting caught stealing, Molly seeks to complete community service by cleaning out the attic of an old lady named Vivian. Molly thinks it will be an easy assignment, but as the two start going through the trunks filled with dust and old memories, Molly realizes that the two may have more in common then she originally thought.

Meanwhile, we follow Niamh’s journey that has a few bumpy starts after getting adopted by a seamstress. When the business goes bankrupt with the stock market crash Niamh is back where she started until the program finds her a new home in a derelict household where Niamh is in charge of taking care of several children. However, after a traumatic experience, Niamh is thrown into the hands of several people who set her on a straighter path and a new identity.

I absolutely loved this story, especially after I learned how the two storylines ended up merging together. I loved the relationship between Vivian and Molly. While it may seem of a cliche story line of a young recluse finding her way through the direction of a wise older mentor, Kline does it in such a way that it is bittersweet. Both characters get something out of the bargain but I think Vivian more than Molly. I thought the ending was going to be that Molly finds purpose and Vivian says goodbye to some old ghosts but it ends up being so much more. The fact that it is the start of a whole new chapter in some regards for both of them was definitely unexpected, but I won’t say more for fear of giving it away.

Kline did a great a job with this story and her writing was enveloping. Every time I picked up this book, I had no trouble picking up where I left off and being swept away with the story. I honestly didn’t want this story to end.

‘Origin’ by Dan Brown

“Where did we come from? Where are we going?”

Those are the two questions that Robert Langdon must answer after his former student and billionaire Edmond Kirsch dies just he starts announcing his big discovery at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It is a discovery that attempts to answer these two questions and “will change the face of science forever,” or so he tells Langdon minutes before the event.

Langdon knows that Kirsch consulted with three religious leaders about his findings, but when the clerical leaders start going missing, Langdon realizes that someone is trying to cover up Kirsch’s discovery. Then Langdon’s own life is threatened and he ends up fleeing with Ambra Vidal, the museum director who worked with Kirsch. The two must race against the clock to unveil Kirsch’s secret and release it to the world.

Once again, Brown raises questions that puts religion and science face to face but in this latest installment, he takes it one step further by adding conflict within the scientific community. And if that isn’t enough, Brown adds a cast of characters that constantly play against each other, to the point that you don’t know who to trust. It just makes it more suspenseful and you urge Langdon to find out the secret before it’s lost forever.

If there is any criticism that I have about this book it is that, unlike the first two books in the series, which had a new clue at each turn, this book stalls in the middle on just one clue. For example, in “The Davinci Code” Langdon has to unlock several clues, each one with their own level of difficulty. In “Origin” I felt that Langdon struggles to figure out an encryption for most of the book. Granted, the clue would be pretty challenging for anyone and Langdon admits that he didn’t know Kirsch as well as the Vidal. Yet, I feel like Brown could have taken out several pages in the middle of the book without losing the effect.

I was also kind of disappointed with the final reveal. After all the hype, I was expecting a mindblowing discovery like “The Davinci Code” While the answers to the questions were interesting, at the same time, I felt like it was anti-climatic. Perhaps it was the simplicity to the answer that when you figure it out all you say is “duh.”

Which makes my rating of this book so difficult. So I will say this: If you just want a book that is a quick enjoyable read, simply for entertainment value, then this book is definitely worth it. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and enough suspense to keep me at the edge of my seat. Overall very satisfactory.


Have you read “Origin”? What did you think? Let’s discuss!

‘March’ by Geraldine Brooks

It must be extremely difficult for an author to take a character that another author has created and write a completely new storyline for him/her. I am always hesitant when I hear about books that are retellings or extensions of another person’s work because I never know if it will ruin my love for the original story.

When I heard Geraldine Brooks had written a book “March”, telling the story of the elusive Mr. March from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, I was extremely excited. After all “Little Women” is one of my favorite novels. And this is also what made me hesitate to read it. “Little Women” was written in a completely different time and I couldn’t help but wonder how Brooks could even get the material to write such a book. I didn’t know if she would be able to give it justice.

However, Brooks showed once again that she is truly a master of her craft and, even had I not read the afterword where she details her research, it was quite evident that Brooks had looked into Alcott and the history behind her classic.

In “Little Women”, it is clear that Mr. March is an important figure to the  girls right in the opening pages when Jo says “We don’t have father and shall not have him for a long time.” The girls go on to think of their father where the fighting is. While this will motivate the girls in their actions moving forward, Mr. March remains in the distant background throughout most of the novel, with just reminders sprinkled throughout. The only times Mr. March is mentioned is when Marmee reads a letter she receives from him, then when she is called to Washington because Mr. March is ill and finally, his surprising return home, the only point he makes physical appearance.

These moments are noted in “March” and helps provides the reader with a timeline of where Mr. March is in relation to the “Little Women” storyline. Brooks fills in the gaps with remarkable detail of Mr. March’s accounts of the war, the hypocrisy of both sides as well as his views about African Americans, which many in his regiment condemn him for and even reassign him to another area. 

Having read up on the history of Louisa May Alcott and her family, it was quite evident that Brooks based Mr. March on Alcott’s own father, Bronson Alcott, from his attitudes in education to being involved in the Underground Railroad. Even Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who were close friends with the Alcotts, make an appearance in “March”. It makes sense, since the March sisters are based on her own sisters.

But Brooks’ research went even further and I was actually surprised that even the camp that Mr. March ends up at, where freed slaves are made to work for wages, is actually based on a true account.
It is evident that Brooks had much respect for Alcott’s work and wanted to do it justice. Honestly, as I was reading it, I kept forgetting that it was from a different author. There was no point in the plot where I questioned the authenticity.

It made for an enjoyable read and I was able to focus on getting to know Mr. March as personally as I have gotten to know his daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. And I definitely feel like I know all of the March family at this point.

Though I will say, I was a little nervous about March’s character from the onset, when he reveals that letters he has been sending home are lies. 

“I never promised I would write the truth.”

I mean it’s understandable why he doesn’t go into detail about the day-to-day of war in his letters home. Just reading about what was going on in reality caused me to grit my teeth and hold my breath until it was over.

I liked how March doesn’t only explain the carnage and horror that he is seeing around him, but he also uses his down time to reflect on his past. Here is where the reader gets to truly know the person he was and how he got to where he is now. I especially liked the parts where he talks about meeting Marmee, aka Margaret as a young woman, her fire personality and how she had just as much input to where the March family is now. It is another clue as to the progressive nature of the family, inspired by the Alcotts..

I also especially liked that Brooks filled in the holes of what happened when Marmee went to Washington to take care of the ailing Mr. March. In the book, Brooks gives Marmee her own section and you get to see how much she hides from the girls, how much turmoil goes through her as she learns some truths to her husband’s past. In “Little Women”, Marmee almost seems like the best mother ever, despite a mere hint of her flaws when she shares with Jo that she has a similar temper. Well, that temper is definitely not held in check in this book but it makes Marmee even more endearing, if that is even possible.

I loved how “March” ends with Mr. March returning home, falling at the end of the first part, or first book if you will, of “Little Women”. It made for the perfect ending, even though getting there was riddled with its own drama.

If you had always wondered what happened to Mr. March when he went to war, then Brooks’ version is the perfect complement. This book now holds a special place on my bookshelf right next to its inspiration and its two other books, “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.”

“Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks

At first, I thought this may not be a good book to read at the moment, given its subject matter and the current state of affairs. Yet, surprisingly this book actually made me feel better and provided some insight into the impact this pandemic can have on all of us.

Geraldine Brooks has a way of grabbing the reader right from the onset with just enough detail that leaves the reader wanting more. “Year of Wonders” opens in the spring of 1666 with the main character Anna apple picking in the orchard. She quickly notes that if there is one thing that she hates it is the smell of rotting apples and that she has had to smell them for way too long. She brings the apples to the rectory where she works and the reader is quick to pick up that something is just not right, from the tired staff that can barely keep up with the day-to-day maintenance to the rector himself who doesn’t want to eat and is in a state of isolation. The mood is definitely one of gloom. You can’t help but wonder, what happened here?

Brooks then transports the reader back to the fall of 1665 where Anna is living as a widow with two sons, her husband dead from a mining accident. One day, a boarder shows up on Anna’s door having been directed by the rectory that she can take him in. The guy is a tailor and has been kept busy taking orders from other people in the village. Yet that is where the story really starts.

One day the boarder comes down with a mysterious illness and less than a day later he is dead. While strange, no one thinks anything of it, until the people who last had contact with him start to get ill and there are reports from London that people have started to leave the city in droves because the plague is making its rounds.

“One  walks, if one must walk, in the very center of the roadway to avoid the contagion, seeping from dwellings. Those who must move through the poorer parishes cover their faces in her stuffed masks contrived like the beaks of great birds. People go through the streets like drunkards, weaving from this side to that as to avoid passing to close to any other pedestrian… One rarely sees a wigg’d gallant or a powdered lady, for wealth and connection are no shield against plague”

As their village starts to be heavily impacted by the plague, the rector calls on the villagers to agree to a quarantine, essentially locking down the village to any outsiders. This is when they are given their true test as they watch whole families ravaged by the illness and desperation leads to crime and even murder.

I was shocked by how relatable this story was. And then I saw it was inspired by a true story of a “plague village” in Derbyshire back in the 1600s. But it wasn’t that the story was based on fact (aren’t they all?) but it was the actions that the characters take to avoid infection and try to combat the illness.

“We placed ourselves so that some three yards separated each family group believing this to be sufficient distance to avoid the passing of infection”

Sounds familiar huh? I certainly didn’t know that they were practicing social distancing back then. Though in the book they actually distance themselves 9 feet compared to the six feet that is currently recommended. Perhaps they knew something back then that we don’t?

They were also determining how fatal the illness was by the number of people infected. As they go to church each Sunday, which has since been moved to the outdoors so they have more room to distance themselves, they realize how many have been infected by who is not there. They also realize when they are starting to get over the illness by the decrease in the number of deaths. To us, that terminology has been dubbed “flattening the curve.”

“Yesterday I have filed in my mind as a good day, notwithstanding it was filled with mortal illness and the grieving of the recently bereft. Yet it is a good day for the simple fact that noone died upon it. We are brought to a sorry state that we measure what is a good day by such a shortened yardstick.”

By exploring what a fatal illness can do to a village and the families that live inside that village, Brooks also raises thematic questions that the characters struggle to answer. For example, nature vs faith. At one point, it strikes Anna that perhaps everything that has happened is not all God’s doing. She begins to seriously consider how nature has caused the turn of events and perhaps studying that more could give them the answers they need to cure it. She and the rectors wife experiment with different herbs to help soothe symptoms and find that some patients are even recovering.

If people can overcome the plague than we too shall get over COVID-19. In fact, after reading this, it seems the plague is much worse. I think the fear with our current pandemic is the unknown and the fact that it is a new virus. Yet, there are already vaccines and treatments underway. So like in the book, this too shall pass.

The ending of the book was a little bittersweet, given everything that happened. And yet it seems to work and provides a little hope for the future. This book is definitely worth reading, though I understand why some people would want to wait.


Have you read this “Year of Wonders”? What other books like this would you recommend? Let’s discuss!