Amy Brill

Amy Brill, author of The Movement of Stars, writes:

“Four novels by women about science and the persistence of the human spirit. I found them inspiring and profound in equal measure, and the language therein evocative and powerful. If I accomplish a sliver of what these four women have in these four books, I’ll be happy forever.”

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett

“I fell hard for the unlikely heroine of Ann Patchett’s sixth novel, Marina Singh, a scientist nearing middle age, whose moral fallibility and loneliness and courage were fiercely endearing. The story sends Dr. Singh into the Amazonian delta to confront her former mentor — now gone rogue on the pharmaceutical company they both work for — and uncover the truth about a colleague’s mysterious disappearance there. Crazy things happen in this book: natives nibble tree bark that makes them fertile forever, a giant Anaconda is wrestled into submission, a deaf indigenous boy becomes a beloved substitute son. As in Bel Canto, another of my favorites, Patchett manages to turn a Heart of Darkness–esque vision quest into a lyrical, moving mediation on longing, loneliness, and humanity.”

By Emily Barton

“Women! Gin! Ferrymen! Tavernkeepers! And of course, my beloved home, Brooklyn, known as Brookland in Emily Barton’s eponymous 1996 novel. What more could I ask for in a historical novel? In fact, if there was one book I read on my own long road to publication that convinced me I should keep going with my story about a nineteenth-century woman in science, this was the one. My affection for the book, though, went deeper than its thematic similarity to my own, i.e., the aspirations of a strong woman, hindered by the constraints of a time and place that didn’t publicly recognize her right to achieve. Barton’s reimagining of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Brooklyn captivated me, as did her deft handling of complex, period-appropriate engineering and architectural issues. Mostly though, I loved Pru Winship, her protagonist, for her fierce, independent spirit and her refusal to stand on the sidelines.”

Year of Wonders
By Geraldine Brooks

“This convincing, suspenseful, and feminist reimagining of the goings-on in the town of Eyam, in rural England, over the course of 1666, is easily the most enjoyable novel about the Black Death ever written. Once it self-quarantined, the town set upon itself, its community imploding via a series of false accusations, tragedies, and acts of desperation. Through all of it, Anna Frith, the protagonist — a persistent, hopeful flame amid the doom and despair — manages to find her calling as a healer and pursue it. Along with the death and mayhem, there’s also a healthy dollop of sexual awakening, illicit affairs, and illegitimate children in there. Brooks, in her debut novel, mastered the art of turning historical detail and scientific inquiry into an actual stay-up-late-to-see-what-happens page-turner. Not an easy feat, and one I greatly admire.”

The Voyage of the Narwhal
By Andrea Barrett

“This novel is an entrancing journey across sea and psyche that spoke to me at a time when, like its protagonist, I felt myself in need of validation, of accomplishment, of a second (or third, or maybe fourth) chance at achieving my dream. Which is exactly what Erasmus Darwin Wells, a ship’s naturalist, hopes for as he embarks on an 1855 expedition to try and discern the fate of Sir John Franklin’s ships and crew, lost in the Arctic a decade previous. Ultimately, the long and perilous voyage becomes one of self-discovery. Told in Barrett’s nuanced, emotionally reserved prose, the novel captures a fascinating and turbulent time in history, when the very nature of humankind was redefined. I loved it the first time I read it, and I love it still.”