I thought I'd try this one -- I didn't last long with the 365 photo challenge last year but the beginning of the year is always a time for optmism. And so I've quickly finished up my first book of the year: Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Set in 17th century England, the novel recounts the story of a small village infested with a plague which arrives with a tailor and his imported textiles. As one person after another succumbs, their friends and relatives, under the leadership of a determined pastor, make the decision to enclose themselves within their own bounds in the hope of saving others who live in their vicinity. Their plague year is then marked by both heroic selflessness and desperate, cowardly violence, with skillful women healers revered and then accused of witchcraft.
The stock elements of the historical novel are firmly lodged in place: the spunky heroine, the tragic losses, the (un) surprising romance, the wealthy wicked family seeking only to save itself, the pastor's regret and self-recrimination. But the writing is skillful and the detail wonderful. Some of the burial scenes remind me of those in the 1983 movie Testament,which follows the fortunes of a Californa town after a nuclear attack through the eyes of one family as the population dies from radiation sickness and the survivors are overcome by the demands upon them and strive to maintain their sanity.
If I were still teaching world history to ninth graders, I would assign them sections of this novel as a way for the to delve into both the physical horrors and the human reactions -- both courageous and cowardly -- that marked the plague centuries.