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Julia's Library Research Blog!
Research into libraries of the past and thoughts on libraries today.
"I decided to do a review of Geraldine Brooks’ historical fiction from the perspective of a historian. I really enjoyed her books, so I wanted to try and provide a perspective from my own background to talk about them."
Geraldine Brooks’ Novels from the perspective of a historian:
A few days ago, I finished reading March by Geraldine Brooks. I got into her books after my mom recommended that I read People of the Book. I remember we were at the Library of Congress last summer, and mom was so excited because she remembered some of the book history and book preservation tidbits that Brooks talked about in the book. I hadn’t gotten a chance to read it, but my mom’s excitement over the book made it jump to the top of my to-read list. I was totally addicted! Immediately after, I bought a copy of Year of Wonders, and read that before March. Brooks has consistently surprised me, and a large part of that is because of my hit-and-miss relationship with historical fiction.
There is some great historical fiction out there, and I know that nearly every author pours their heart and soul into research and writing to make a believable story and bring that story to life. Brooks is one of those authors whose hard work really pays off for me: I have read a lot of historical fiction that I liked, but that failed to ‘grab’ me, and Brooks’ stories suck me in almost as soon as I open the cover. Why? Because one of my favorite parts of being a historian is being pulled into the world I’m studying as fully as possible. More than anything, I want to experience those times and places as though I lived in them to give me a fuller understanding, and because I am endlessly amazed by the interesting characters I ‘meet’ when studying historical documents. When I read one of Brooks’ novels, I feel like she is allowing me to move through one of those worlds, thus fulfilling my deep desire to experience other times.
The characters Brooks creates are complex and realistic, and she doesn’t shy away from creating very sympathetic protagonists with real-world shortcomings. Perhaps most importantly, she researches the time periods thoroughly enough to allow her characters to describe aspects of their world that you, as the modern reader, might not necessarily think of. For example, March describes the torment of a husband and father, torn between the desire to write a truthful letter to his family while he is away at war and his desire to send them uplifting news. In People of the Book, I loved the way she intertwined the history of an artifact with the bits of information people left behind as they interacted with it (and I have to say, as someone with some background in book arts and preservation, it was really exciting to see how spot on a lot of her discussion of the book was!)
The books also appeal to the psychologist in me. Having gotten my B.A. in Psychology a few years ago, I focused on studying the psychology of loss and trauma. Brooks’ texts bring a lot of this research alive for me in a really interesting way, because she has been able to conceptualize the theories I studied and the traumatic experiences I worked with into a fictional storyline. I think the prime example that I can talk about without giving anything away is Year of Wonders. It’s a book about the way a Plague outbreak impacts an English village, and as she describes the experiences of the villagers during that time, I got a really intimate look at the way a pileup of losses (experiencing a number of losses over time) would have operated in that context.
I am looking forward to seeing what Brooks is going to write next, and to meet the characters she creates—I always feel very attached to them by the end of the book! One thing I’ll recommend to my fellow historians (and everyone else): read the afterword! It’s a really great way to learn about what inspired Brooks to write the book, and what was based in actual historical events/on actual people and what parts of the story she researched and then created herself. I would love to hear what experiences other readers have had with Brooks, and how her work helps you understand the time periods in which she bases her stories.
Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues. In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master’s program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, is an international bestseller, and People of the Book is a New York Times bestseller translated into 20 languages. She is also the author of the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Brooks married author Tony Horwitz in Tourette-sur-Loup, France, in 1984. They have two sons-- Nathaniel and Bizuayehu--and two dogs. They divide their time between homes in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Sydney, Australia
Check out Geraldine's website here
Thank you Julia for this beautifully written guest post!
Make sure you visit her blog: