Study Guide

Year of Wonders Suffering

By Geraldine Brooks

Suffering

Chapter 1

The memories of happiness are fleeting things, reflections in a stream, glimpsed all broken for a second and then swept away in the current of grief that is our life now. (1.1.13)

With the plague currently tearing apart the tiny village of Eyam, Anna and her neighbors are left in a destitute emotional state. They've watched family members die. They've watched friends go insane. They've endured at least two violent murders. Basically, it's been a long time since anyone used an emoji that wasn't a sad face.

Chapter 3
Michael Mompellion

"If God saw fit to send this scourge, I believe it would be His will that one faces it where one was, with courage and thus contain its evil." (2.3.48)

Not everyone thinks that suffering is a bad thing. Mompellion, true to his Puritan belief system, sees suffering as God's way of testing his people. If that's so, then consider the plague God's equivalent to the MCAT. You've got to study hard for that sucker.

Chapter 5

It seemed as if the flesh inside of him was dying while he yet breathed, the putrefying meat pushing and bursting its way out of his failing body. (2.5.17)

This imagery is a bit much, but though it's gross, it shows us the immense physical suffering associated with the plague. It also gives us an idea of the emotional suffering that one endures watching a loved one go through something so horrific.

"Do we not have suffering enough in this village? Is there not Death enough here for you all that you bring the crime of murder amongst us as well?" (2.5.50)

With the plague rapidly taking hold, the villagers go legit insane and lynch Anys Gowdie because they think that she's a witch. They're desperate to pin the blame for their situation on some outside force; it's the only way they can make sense of their suffering.

Chapter 6
Michael Mompellion

"Like the ore that must be melted all to liquid to find the pure metal, so must we be rendered in the fiery furnace of this disease." (2.6.17)

Once again, we see Mompellion argue that suffering is a good thing. It's like a daily vitamin. While he might not be entirely incorrect, this passage becomes increasingly ironic as the novel goes on. Check out "Quote #10" in this section for more insight into this issue.

Chapter 9

This time, it was no outward horror that plunged me back into our hard reality, but my own realization [...] that I had no further means to secure such oblivion. (2.9.19)

Anna relieves a great deal of her suffering by taking opium, but the feeling is only temporary. Even worse than that—her supply is limited. In this way, Anna's drug use ends up biting her in the butt because it only highlights the emotional pain she's been fighting against since the plague arrived in Eyam.

By the slant of the light, I could tell I'd slept ten hours—the first unbroken sleep I could remember in an age. (2.9.6)

After the death of her children, Anna partakes in a dab of opium to ease her pain. It works like a charm: instead of obsessing all day about the things that she's lost, she's able to enjoy a thoughtless bliss. Needless to say, however, none of this ends well.

Chapter 11

He had, as he had said, set himself up as a grave-digger to the desperate. From those too ill or weak to bury their dead, he demanded a high fee. (2.11.7)

Some people, like Anna's pops, seek to exploit the suffering of others. This is an unfortunate but very real thing that happens: any time a tragedy strikes, you can be sure that there's some shady huckster out there looking to make a quick buck off of someone else's pain.

Chapter 12

The trouble with weeping was that once begun, it became almost impossible to stop. (2.12.1)

Ain't that the truth? To be fair, our typical weeping sessions about One Direction are a tad less intense than they'd be if the plague destroyed our hometown.

Chapter 15

I understood that where Michael Mompellion had been broken by our shared ordeal, in equal measure I had been tempered and made strong. (3.15.45)

Everyone in the village experiences suffering, but the reactions each person has to it vary wildly. Anna, for example, becomes much stronger as a result of the pain she experiences. Mompellion, on the other hand, is emotionally and spiritually crushed by Elinor's death.