Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Sagas
Source: Penguin Group USA
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In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
I received this book for free from Penguin Group USA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I also recommend:
Ok. Stop right now and grab some paper, because I’m about to tell you what your next book club choice should be. Wait, you may say. Didn’t you really dislike Gilbert’s memoir, the well-loved Eat, Pray, Love? Why yes, I did not connect well with that book at all and I almost didn’t pick up The Signature of All Things as a result but oh boy, am I glad I did. This is proof positive, folks, that you don’t have to like the person of the author as portrayed in her memoirs, but you can absolutely love her fiction.
Because I did love it. I adored every single page of The Signature of All Things – even the ones that made me uncomfortable (binding closet, I’m looking at you). This is not a book for the faint of heart because Gilbert attacks everything – every want, desire, love, sorrow, and challenge of being a single woman in a time where being a single woman was 100x harder than it is today. Alma Whittaker is a character who, in spite of all of our differences, I could relate to on the deepest level. I felt her longing and pain, but understood her desire for unlimited time – to live life at a crawl in order to learn everything possible about her passion.
I also discovered that although I have zero interest in botany, it’s something that could catch my interest. I saw on the sofa, midway through the book, discussing orchids and vanilla beans from Tahiti, and she looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how in the world I knew so much on the subject, and I have Gilbert’s extensive research to thank for that.
Over and over throughout the book I paused to look up information – to see what was real and what wasn’t and so much was based on actual history. It was beyond fascinating and I’ve been unable to stop talking about this book to those around me since I put it down. So when I say that The Signature of All Things needs to be next on your book club’s list, I mean it. There will be no shortage of conversation (and I’m sure no shortage of people who are offended by some of the contents) but all of that makes for some really fascinating discussion and something I really wish I could have had when I finished the book.
Check out these reviews!
- “Usually, long books are difficult with my short attention span, but this novel kept me absolutely riveted for every second I spent with it.” – S. Krishna’s Books
- ‘”I recommend you forgive Gilbert the conceit of Eat, Pray, Love and pick this up.” – Book’d Out
- ” This book is bravely done, written with great pose and confidence. ” - Reading for Sanity