Worried About Swine Flu? At Least It’s Not the Plague…

May 1, 2009 // Filed under Blog

Get the latest information on the H1N1 flu virus (governmentese for swine flu) by going to pandemicflu.gov . Once you have calmed your nerves, experience real tears and feverish chills as you read about life during years of the plague in the following two books recommended by Evelyn Fischel of Bernardsville Public Library.

Dava Sobel’s excellent biography of Galileo Galilei focuses on his relationship with his devoted, but cloistered daughter, Suor Maria Celeste – hence the title, Galileo’s Daughter. It was a most remarkable and touching relationship brought to life via the daughter’s preserved letters to her father which are integrated into the story. The author competently establishes the nature of 17th century science, catholicism, and Italian politics and clearly demonstrates what a challenging force Galileo was to all three. Scorned and put under house arrest for his theories, Galileo’s only true source of comfort and support came from his exceptional daughter’s selfless devotion to him. Where does the plague fit in here? It appeared throughout the book as a scourge which wiped out nuns in their convents and merchants in their city apartments, restricting travel for Galileo, and causing the Pope and Medici rulers to enact harsh public health edicts. The different ways religion, politics and science responded to the plague also mirrored the different ways Galileo’s ideas were received at that time.
The plague also plays a symbolic role in Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks’ fictional account of a plague-stricken English village in the 17th century. Based on a true story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, Year of Wonders recounts how the villagers chose to face the greatest threat to their survival when the plague was brought into their community on an infected bolt of fabric. What they chose to do and how they faced the consequences of that decision make Year of Wonders a dramatic, sorrowful and inspiring story. The plague here could easily be exchanged for any other destructive phenomenon which creates societal tension and moral dilemmas, forcing characters to make choices no one would want to face.

~ Evelyn Fischel

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