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Sunday, April 29, 2007

cover of Doomsday Book

A story set in the future where they have the power to send people back to various points in history, using 'the net'. The net won't allow irregularities, so someone who was sick with a disease that the 'contemporaries' (aka those who lived in the past) wouldn't be able to travel to the past. And viruses etc. cannot come through the net either. Kivrin, a young college student, wants to return through the net as an historian to the middle ages (1320 or so). She takes the initiative and learns various languages so she should be able to communicate, grows long hair, learns practical skills like riding a horse and milking a cow, and does research so she'll be able to fit in (at least mostly!) with the contemps. She is sent back, and even as she is leaving things are going wrong in the present -- and within a few days a full-blown epidemic is happening. The two stories (past and present) mirror each other and reflect each other in beautiful ways.

Mr. Dunworthy is Kivrin's closest tutor. Others helped her to learn language or various skills, but Mr. Dunworthy is the one who made sure she knew what to learn, encouraged her to be wise in how she went about things, and became almost a father to her. Kivrin has a recorder imbedded in her wrists, so she can hold her hands like she is praying and record observations and thoughts without raising suspicion, and most of her words are directed to Mr. Dunworthy. When she is scared that things have gone dreadfully wrong and she may not be able to get back home it is Mr. Dunworthy that she hopes for - it is him that she trusts to keep the net open so she can return and to find her. At the same time, Mr. Dunworthy is doing everything he can to get the net open, to find out where and when she is exactly, to save her - but this is incredibly difficult with all the restrictions that have been put in place because of the epidemic. This also happens to be taking place around Christmas, so there are a couple different reflections from Mr. Dunworthy about God sending His Son to save humanity and parallels between Mr. Dunworthy and Kivrin. Without being heretical, Willis raises interesting questions.

Kivrin is sent back to 1320 but due to a variety of factors ends up in the wrong time. In 1348, when the black death hits the specific part of England where she is. Before she went she was immunized so isn't in danger of becoming infected, but everyone around her is in danger. She knows what it is and how it is transferred from person to person, so she frantically tries to care for those she has come to know and love in her short time with them -- but without medicine and knowledge that isn't available yet in the past she can only do so much. So she and father Roche (priest for the village) care for those who are sick and dying. Watch them die. Not what Kivrin signed up for -- but she cannot leave them (both because she doesn't know where the net is and because she cares for them too much), so she stays and helps bring hope to the village and family who took her in when she was sick (same virus that becomes an epidemic in her own time). Being present, since there isn't much else to do.

Colin is the great nephew of Mr. Dunworthy's good friend, Dr. Ahrens. Colin is coming up to spend the Christmas season with her, but because of the epidemic and the desire to keep it contained his train is sent back. As an adventurous and bright twelve-year old, he finds a way around it and comes searching for his great aunt. His energy and youth help bring hope into this story so full of sickness and suffering and death. He helps with anything that needs to be done (as long as it is somewhat fun) and keeps pushing Mr. Dunworthy and others to hope, to do what needs to be done even if it seems impossible. With so many serious topics and ideas in the book, it's important to be reminded of youth and possibility and adventure. That there is beauty and hope and things worth fighting for in life. Strength for today.

Title:Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Date published:1992
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of pages: 578
Notes: Read in less than a week


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