This book was loaned to me by Joyce, who said it was even better than People of the Book. (She's right, by the way). Kate wants to know what I think of it, too, since it's on her TBR list and she has enjoyed other books by Brooks.
Although this book was very well written from cover to cover, it starts in quite a depressing manner. It begins at what seems like the ending, after the plague has ravaged the town and the narrator has lost just about everyone she cared about; then it takes us back to the previous year so we can live through all of the grief with Anna Frith.
It has been a long time since I last cried over a book--so long that I can't even remember which book I might have cried over most recently. (Surely I have been brought to tears by something more recent than Where the Red Fern Grows when I was in grade school.) I don't believe I've shed a tear over any of the books I've blogged about here. But it was heartbreaking to read about the last hours of Baby Tom. Even though I expected his death (and dreaded it every moment, figuratively dragging my feet as I read) I was unprepared for the powerful grief of it. Then little Jamie quickly followed. Do yourself a favor and don't read the chapters "Rat-fall" or "Sign of a Witch" until you have some time alone. You don't want to be, say, in your doctor's waiting room and sobbing into your book.
Somehow in the midst of all the sorrow the author still manages to craft a beautiful story. I have come to the solid opinion that Geraldine Brooks is an incredibly gifted writer. I love how she makes the story all the more authentic by using period vocabulary, but that is merely one small example of what makes her writing excellent. For more evidence, just listen to the beauty of this passage:
"It was one of those rare days in early April when Nature lets us taste the sweet spring that is coming. It was so unexpectedly mild that I lingered in the garth, breathing the soft scents of the slowly warming earth. The sky was beautiful that morning. A tumble of fluffy, tufted clouds covered the whole from horizon to dome, as if a shearer had flung a new-shorn fleece high into the air. As I watched, the rays of the rising sun lit the edge of each cloud, turning it silver, until suddenly the fleece became instead a mesh of shining metal. Then, the light changed again, and the silvery gray turned deep rose-red."When I read this, not only could I see clearly how lovely it must look, but I felt I had been there at that precise moment; even that I am there right now.
As the book reached its conclusion, there were several moments in which I felt like I turned a corner and received a whole new perspective. Kudos to Brooks for not taking the easy way out. I was sure I could not be happy with an ending that differed in any way from the one I had planned out in my head, but time and again Brooks opened my eyes to a wider world with just as much peace and joy (if not more) than I would have had in a book with my chosen ending and my narrow view. I know in my blog I claim that spoilers abound, but I absolutely refuse to ruin the story for you. I want you to come upon these discoveries in the same way that I did, with no prior knowledge of them to taint your perspective.
If you can get past the depressing and seemingly hopeless first chapter, and if you can accept an ending that is probably not what you would wish or expect, I think you will love this book as much as I did.