Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie (HarperCollins, 2014)

This is one of those historical novels that is based on real historical figures, so some of it is factual and the rest is filled in with imagination. It is very similar in style to the 2013 novel by Sally Cabot “Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard.” Both main characters are real: Johann Gutenberg, known to bibliophiles as the inventor of printing, and his “apprentice”, Peter Schoeffer. Christie, a first-time novelist, evokes the flavor of 15th century Germany well. It does seem odd that the Germans are so angry about the abuses of the Catholic Church at the same time that they seem to be quite faithful believers in Christianity, but that does foretell the Protestant Reformation of the next century. It is interesting the way several minor characters (and Schoeffer himself, initially) seem to find printing so frightening and immoral, like they were somehow interfering with God by not using handwriting to transmit His words to the people. At any rate, Christie does her best to make the characters come to life as the arrogant and ambitious folk they apparently were, and it makes a good novel.

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