The Stargazer's Sister

The Stargazer's Sister

A Novel

Book - 2015
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Random House, Inc.
From the acclaimed author of The Last First Day, here is a beautiful new period novel: a nineteenth-century story of female empowerment before its time, based on the life of Caroline Herschel, sister of the great composer and astronomer William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right.
 
This exquisitely imagined novel opens as William rescues Caroline from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England and a world of music making and stargazing. Lina, as Caroline is known, serves as William’s assistant and the captain of his exhilaratingly busy household. William is generous, wise, and charismatic, an obsessive genius whom Lina adores and serves with the fervency of a beloved wife. When William suddenly announces that he will be married, Lina watches her world collapse. With her characteristically elegant prose, Carrie Brown creates from history a compelling story that interweaves familial collaboration and conflict with a haunting exploration of the sublime beauty of astronomy and our small but essential place within a vast and astonishing cosmos. Through Lina’s trials and successes we witness the dawning of an early feminist consciousness—a woman struggling to find her own place among the stars.

Baker & Taylor
After her brother—astronomer and composer William Herschel—rescues her from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England, introducing her to a world of music-making and stargazing, Lina is happy in her new role as his assistant—William announces that he is to be married and her whole world begins to collapse. Reading-group guide available.

Baker
& Taylor

After her brother, astronomer and composer William Herschel, rescues her from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England, Lina is happy in her new role as his assistant, until William announces his impending marriage and her whole world begins to collapse.

Publisher: New York :, Pantheon Books,, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780804197939
0804197938
9780804197946
Characteristics: 332 pages ; 21 cm

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lostintheshelves
Jul 08, 2016

I'm of two minds on this beautifully written piece of historical fiction. On the one hand, it's powerfully affecting portrait of pioneering astronomer Caroline Herschel. Brown writes in the present tense, so Lina's life feels less like a story than a collection of beautifully observed moments, often with great emotional power.The science itself is thrilling, which is rare in historical fiction. I enjoyed most of the book immensely and sobbed heavily toward the end.

On the other, while reading I had several moments where I found it hard to believe the real Lina Herschel spent quite so much time feeling sorry for herself because she was single. If she did, I doubt she did in such 21st century ways. The late 18th century saw a boom in single women like Lina, who faced social prejudice but had unprecedented freedoms, as they weren't legally the property of their husbands. But Brown's Lina only ever thinks of singleness like a Cosmo article, in terms of the sex and love she must be missing, and her moping often undercuts her very real accomplishments.

The afterword reveals that Brown invented Lina's two love interests and close male friend--her most important relationships beside her brother--all of whom exist to emphasize Lina's unhappy single state or solve it. I understand authors have to fictionalize, but that's a lot of invention! It started to feel like an active bias, especially since the fictional Lina had no adult female friends or even servants. The afterword also includes quotes from the real Caroline Herschel that suggest she was spunkier and more sarcastic than the self-pitying version we meet here.
In the end, the author's obsession with Lina's love life undercut my reading enjoyment, though it did make me more curious about the real Caroline Herschel

SFPL_danielay Jun 30, 2016

A well-written novel about Caroline and William Herschel, two pioneering astronomers in 18th-century Britain, but if you really want to learn about their lives and achievements you are better of reading "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes.

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