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The Signature of All Thingsby Elizabeth Gilbert
Now that the excitement over Eat, Pray, Love has finally subsided, readers can focus their attention on Gilbert's tremendous literary talents. This exquisitely written historical novel will thrill everyone who's been awaiting her return to fiction, as well as beguile fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Amanda Coplin.
The Signature of All Things amazes, in part, because it is so unexpected. Gilbert is in full mastery of this historical tale about one woman's unquenchable thirst for the knowledge of life, science, love, biology, language, and botany. Alma struggles through both the pinnacle of happiness and the pain of personal loss, but underneath her emotions is the always-soothing quest for knowledge. Gilbert's fiction is so compelling; this is a truly fantastic story full of heart and intelligence and beauty.
Synopses & Reviews
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.
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 fathers 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.
"After 13 years as a memoirist, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) has returned to fiction, and clearly she's reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities. The Signature of All Things is a big, old-fashioned story that spans continents and a century. It has an omniscient narrator who can deploy (never heavy-handedly) a significant amount of research into the interconnected fields of late 18th- and early 19th-century botany, botanical drawing, spiritual inquiry, exploration, and, eventually, the development of the theory of evolution. The story begins with Henry Whittaker, at first poor on the fringes of England's Kew Gardens, but in the end the richest man in Philadelphia. In more detail, the story follows Henry's daughter, Alma. Born in 1800, Alma learns Latin and Greek, understands the natural world, and reads everything in sight. Despite her wealth and education, Alma is a woman, and a plain one at that, two facts that circumscribe her opportunities. Resigned to spinsterhood, ashamed and tormented by her erotic desires, Alma finds a late-in-life soul mate in Ambrose Pike, a talented botanical illustrator and spiritualist. Characters crisscross the world to make money, to learn, and, in Alma's case, to understand not just science but herself and her complicated relationship with Ambrose. Eventually Alma, who studies moss, enters into the most important scientific discussions of the time. Alma is a prodigy, but Gilbert doesn't cheat: her life is unlikely but not impossible, and for readers traveling with Henry from England to the Andes to Philadelphia, and then with Alma from Philadelphia to Tahiti to Holland, there is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Unlike anything Gilbert has ever written. The book's heroine is Alma Whittaker, the brilliant, restless daughter of an imperious botanical explorer. Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern….Gilbert has returned to her roots in fiction and written the sort of rip-roaring tale that would have been considered entertainment for the masses 150 years ago.” The New York Times Magazine
“The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilbert's 20-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.” The Wall Street Journal
“Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same — who makes the study of existence her life's purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime.” O, The Oprah Magazine
“Gilbert's sweeping saga of Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century….Characters leap into life, visible and vibrant….A brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination.” Kirkus Reviews
“Gilbert has returned to fiction, and clearly shes reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities…[an] unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.” Publishers Weekly
“Rich, highly satisfying….Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century….Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and learning, this is a must-read.” ALA Booklist
About the Author
Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short story collection, Pilgrims, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her novel, Stern Men, was a New York Times Notable Book. Her 2002 book, The Last American Man, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which has been published in more than thirty languages; a film based on the memoir, starring Julia Roberts, opened in August 2010. Her most recent book, the memoir Committed: A Love Story, appeared in 2010. In 2008, Time magazine named Gilbert one of the most influential people in the world. Her Web site is www.elizabethgilbert.com.
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