Anna can only imagine what it must be like to have the weight of the whole village upon his shoulders, as does Michael Mompellion, the village vicar. It is he who has carried the prayers, the hopes and dreams as well as the trauma of those who have lived – and died – among them. That is not to say that Anna has not been there as well. Anna, and Michael’s wife, Elinor, who as the time passed, became more of friend and less of an employer to Anna, have nursed so many of the villagers, caring for them and comforting them. But what they saw together, what they experienced, no one should ever have to. And so Anna understands his wrath toward the wealthy family the Bradfords, on their return, after deserting their village when so many relied upon them. What happened after that, however, she did not expect…
Here is another hard and yet utterly addictive novel by Geraldine Brooks. The time is the 1660’s, in a tiny village in the UK where the Plague has been carried into the town by a kindly and unwitting messenger. After he takes ill and gives warning to burn all of his possessions – a warning that goes unheeded – the disease creeps into the homes of those around him and ravages the village over time.
What we see, however, is all too familiar. We see it bring out the best in some and the worst in others. We see a 1600’s version of misinformation and we see people grasping at untruths because they are desperate and have a deep-seated need to blame someone or something for their misery and pain.
Many may feel that this is too soon after our own plague, but it does feel different. To me it highlights our privilege of scientific advancement and evidence-based medicine. It highlights the knowledge we’ve gained over these centuries and the ability to study a new pathogen with logic and with precision- to develop treatments and vaccines to protect ourselves and to prevent the worst outcomes at lightening speed. On the other hand, and most tragically, our most recent plague has also brought to light the continued distrust and misinformation that runs rampant in our communities as well. The cynical and damaging anti-vaccine misinformation that has been circulated by darker forces in our country via social media and Fox News has stirred just as much unrest and backlash toward legitimate science as did the believers in the witches and magical incantations of the 1600’s. (And just like in those times, the motivation is the same: money.)
This is a powerful and elegantly written novel, deeply researched and exquisitely presented. If you have the capacity to read it, it is absolutely worthwhile. I’d call it a MUST READ, if you are able.