When “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks came up as the May selection for our book group, I needed to read it again with an eye for the discussion. And what a discussion we had!
I’m sure that a book about the plague set in 1666 is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and this book is not without it’s flaws. It does, however, pose some interesting questions of how a variety of people face a crisis of unimaginable proportions and how it affected their faith.
This story is based on limited documented facts about the residents of a small village in England who were convinced by their priest to quarantine themselves in order to prevent spread of the plague to other parts of the country. The priest seemed to intuit that people who were already infected, but not yet ill, would spread the disease in trying to escape from a truly horrible and almost certain death. This notion was a bit of a leap considering the lack of scientific knowledge about the source of The Plague (fleas!), but also plausible, as there is documented evidence available.
The underlying differences in belief systems within the small community were laid out. As the plague affected many families with various religious practices, they often abandoned their faith for more magical and questionable beliefs, hoping to save themselves and their families. It soon became apparent that the relative “holiness” of any one religion, or even lack of religion, provided no more protection than the other from the plague. The righteous were no less affected than the sinners. Plague affected almost every family in the town, leaving the survivors scarred in various ways.
Eventually, nature ran its course. About half the town survived and the plague faded away and people once again went about the business of living.
I still pray. I pray for myself, my family, and for those I know only slightly. I pray for my country and the world. Do my prayers make it to God’s ears and change the course of nature? I don’t know, but they make me feel better.
I’m thinking I need to get back to following the example of the most admirable characters in “Year of Wonders” and actually offer others more of my services along with my prayers. The effect could be far greater.