Year of wonders: A novel of the plague by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is a historical fiction novel based on the story of Eyam, a village in Derbyshire in the East Midlands of England. In 1665 the town's tailor received a package of cloth from plague ravaged London. The package contained infested fleas, and the disease quickly spread throughout the village. The Reverand William Mompesson and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley urged the villagers to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the disease to nearby villages. The heroic actions of the town are credited with saving much of England from the plague. Yet due to their sacrifice, two thirds of the town perished.

Year of Wonders published in 2001, was the first work of fiction by Geraldine Brooks, a former correspondent and non-fiction writer. It tells the story of Anna Frith, a poor farm widow and housemaid to the rector (renamed Michael Mompellion). In order to quarantine the town, villagers must leave payment in vinegar soaked coins on a stone on the edge of the village. People from surrounding villages pick up the payment and leave provisions. Other measure are taken, such as religious services are held outside in the open so that families can stand away from each other. As the plague spreads, Anna ministers to the sick and develops a close friendship with the rector's wife Elinor. Together they learn ancient, gentle ways to use herbs to comfort the ill and are a strong force for good amidst the mayhem. Anna finds hope in the darkness and begins to grow and trust herself.

If you are a fan of dramatic historical fiction and British period pieces, this novel is for you. It contains a good amount of romance, drama, mystery, and even allegations of witchcraft. Geraldine Brooks skillful recreation of a 17th century English village magically takes you back to this amazing time in history. Year of Wonders would make a great book club choice, as there are plenty of ethical topics to discuss, from religious questions to class divisions to the reasons for the town's famous and courageous sacrifice.

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