Pick of the Week: The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Born in 1800, brilliant and curious Alma Whittaker follows in her father’s footsteps into the field of botany, and along with her character, this reader was swept through Philadelphia, the Netherlands and Tahiti during a tumultuous period of history in which many old assumptions about God, nature and humanity were being questioned.
Her ambitious father, who had been born poor in London, educated his daughters with tutors and encouraged Alma to pursue her growing interest in the plants and herbs in the family’s greenhouses and his own substantial library. He also created a prosperous international business importing horticulture in Philadelphia and surrounded himself and his family with other wealthy businessmen who fueled Alma’s desire to learn as much as she could about her field and to one day, become an expert in her field. Had she been born male, Alma might have been recognized as a success.
The Signature of All Things really is a character study of Alma Whittaker, a woman born into wealth and gifted with intellectual prowess, who nevertheless was stymied by the mores of her day. It’s also a story of
a woman’s passionate and unrequited love who ultimately comes to terms with her life and finds the answers to the questions she’d been asking all her life.
What a book! I must admit, I was not a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s earlier book, Eat, Pray, Love, and its self-indulgent navel-gazing and facile answers to big questions. This tome grapples with huge issues -- creationism vs evolution, the source of altruism, and the nature of love -- and guides the reader to think about these issues on a personal level through Alma Whittaker.
I loved everything about this book -- the beautiful writing, the complex characters and the richly-detailed story. I felt as if I knew Alma, understood her longings and, her ultimate acceptance of her fate.