I think I’m vaguely obsessed by the plague…. The bubonic plague, that is. I’ve read several books about the plague and have found the time period and people affected by the plague to be so intriguing. Even now, when I hear of modern day plague cases, I want to know more. It sounds like an awful disease – painful, disgusting, woeful. When I see little prairie dogs on the plains, I wonder if I need to be full of avoidance.

I learned that the plague is an infectious disease caused by the entobacteria yersina pestis. The plague appears in the body through buboes which are bacterial infections that form over the lymph nodes and become very painful, swollen, and cause a purplish brusing color. The plague spreads through rodents and fleas. The earliest accounted plague occured during Biblical times and then throughout the ages in subsequent pandemics; 500’s AD, 1347 to 1351 known as the Black Death, and in the 1600’s, and in the 19th and 20th C.

In this well written historical fiction, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks (2001), an episode of the plague in 1660 set in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, England. Eyam became known as the “Plague Village” and was shut off from outside communications. No one could leave or visit Eyam. This had major implications for the villagers, mostly psychological, but also spiritually and socially. In the few instances when a villager did leave Eyam, they were shunned, and worse, stoned to death.

Another reason why I found this novel so intriguing was for its incorporation of herbal remedies and the growing , identifying, cultivating, and using of herbs. Some people simply did not get the plague. Those with weak or young immune systems were fairly certain targets. There were ways to strengthen the immune system (whether or not it was via a placebo affect remains to be proven) through herbs and taking care of oneself; not that different from staying well in today’s world. That and dealing with or reducing stress!

The story is told through the voice of Anna Frith who looses many of her loved ones and neighbors through the Plague. In fact, most of the village succombs to the Plague, either in actuality or through the mental debilitation of the horrors of the Plague.

The book also has major overtones of the spiritual and religious strife that occured during this time period. Old Pagan ways were still a major part of life; often what the villagers relied upon when they thought that God had abandoned them. Praying no longer worked, so they returned to old Pagan runes, spells, tales, and superstitions. While Christianity was the stronghold through the entire book, and that was the main steadfast string, it still came under attack and faltered, only to pick up again and return to the mission.

Brooks says that she herself was not a religious person during this writing and yet she has placed her characters in the time of the day so well, with the angst of Old Pagan ways vs. Christianity and the changes the Church brought to the small villages in England (and throughout Europe).

Another book about the plague that is probably in my top (10 – 20 – 50 – I have so many top books that I haven’t really counted them yet…) books is Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book. Connie Willis is a CO author and I heard her speak at the Univ. of No CO in Greeley, CO when I was a student there. The Doomsday Book is a Science Fiction novel, of which Willis is a master! Winning the Hugo and Nebula awards for The Doomsday Book, this is one of the finest sci fi tales I have read, incorporating time travel with outstanding medical research on the Plague presented throughout. I first read this book in 1994 and then read it again a few years ago. It was stunning the first time and just as stunning the 2nd time! I couldn’t put it down – I was “binge reading”! For a very nice summary on the book, here’s the recap from Amazon.com:

Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of “contemps” in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion.

Learn more about the Plague at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubonic_plague  and http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/

Both of these books, Year of Wonders and The Doomsday Book, earn 4 stars in my book! 

I have another book on the Plague that I will be reading soon….. and will look forward to writing a post here. For the time being, I am reading Chris Bohjalian’s Before You Know Kindness.  I have a rather large stack of books at the moment and all of them I wish to read with great eagerness!

Be well and keep those immune systems strong!

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