2015-02 Book Club

What: Archangel by Andrea Barrett

When: 18 February, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ’Lochergut’)

Looking at a review of a different book, I came across this one that’s also in a sense historical fiction, though with an approach that had me intrigued: Five long short stories, not on the people at the forefront of discovery but how their contemporaries try to reconcile the new theories with their existing view of the world. From said review:

“In her new book, Archangel, Barrett—who has already written a number of superb fictions involving the history of science, among them Ship Fever, The Voyage of the Narwhal, and The Air We Breathe —here offers a group of interconnected stories that take place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each of which centers around an event or moment in the history of science and technology. “The Investigators” gives us the 1908 flight of an airplane made by Glenn H. Curtiss, as seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. In 1920, in “The Ether of Space,” astronomers argue about the implications of Einstein’s theory of relativity; in “The Particles,” geneticists returning from a contentious conference in Edinburgh in 1939 are bombed by a German U-boat and forced into even closer quarters on a rescue ship. “The Island” concerns a young woman on a Cape Cod summer study program led by Louis Agassiz in 1873, when he began what later became the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. And “Archangel,” set in northern Russia in 1919, concerns medical science, as an X-ray technician copes with the implications of her work in a war that inexplicably drags on.

(...) Because Agassiz was such an important and serious scientist, the scene is as sad as it is funny. The resistance to new theories, the pain of change, is one of Barrett’s central themes. Like Henrietta, who eventually recovers, we see creatures in a new way—implicitly—as products of natural selection. While we do not regret the knowledge, we also know that every gain is also a loss, here the loss of the certainty that everything makes sense because it is all from the mind of the creator, arising from a single cause. Moreover, profound uncertainties about love, and about the possibility of happiness, beset the characters in these stories even as they search for clarity in new knowledge and understanding of science. Like Darwin, and Einstein, and all her other heroes, Barrett the storyteller pulls us relentlessly away from false comforts, into the dazzling, often chaotic, world as it really is.” (New York Review of Books)

First suggested: March 2014

Supporter(s): Uli, Rene, Leon, Ronel, Michaela

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