Why this book: Recommended to me by a good friend.
My Impressions: Bottom line –wow! I’ve never read a book like this before –found it very powerful. Elizabeth Gilbert pulled me into this story – I felt like I grew close to the main character Alma Whitaker, and was drawn into her world.
The book is about the life of a fictional woman in the 19th century who grew up in a unique family. It began with the story of her extraordinary father – the progenitor of this new clan of Whitakers. He reminded me somewhat of the driving figure in the book The Son by Philip Meyer. After we got to know the father and how he became one of the wealthiest men in the newly formed United States at the end of the 18th beginning of the 19th century, the book shifted to the inner world and life of his only daughter, Alma.
The book is very much about the growth, development, and personal struggles of the main character Alma Whitaker– in a confined world in which she was educated to be precocious, in ways that did not fit then-society’s views of how women should be, act and live. She became almost by default, but certainly also by nature, a scientist, driven by an overwhelming rational and scientific approach to everything she did. But she struggled with loneliness, a desire for family and love, and isolation from conventional society, while driven by a desire to know, understand and be a part of the world of scientific (botanical) discovery. Eventually she does fall in love, with a man who is more poet and mystic than scientist, with unpredictable consequences, and her life takes a very sharp turn –especially when her father dies, and leaves his enormous wealth to her alone. Then she comes to understand some things about her past that she hadn’t known. (No spoilers here – I want you to read this book!)
When the book concluded, I had come to love and admire this woman and, as is often the case with well-developed characters in well written books, when I finished the The Signature of All Things, I was sad, and immediately began to miss Alma Whitaker. The title refers to an idea by Jacob Boehme, a German cobbler and mystic of the 16th century, who believed that all things in this world have a unique and divine signature. In the words of one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s characters, the signature is a clue “…that God had hidden …for humanity’s betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code….” This idea is very subtly, but definitely, a theme throughout this wonderful novel.
I loved this book.