Monday, September 29, 2014

Gutenberg’s Apprentice-Alix Christie

Gutenberg’s Apprentice
Alix Christie
Harper, Sep 23 2014, $27.99
ISBN 9780062336019

In 1450, merchant Johann Fust orders his adopted son Peter Schoeffer to come home from Paris immediately.  Though he prefers to stay in France as his work as a scribe has been thriving, Peter obeys and takes the three day journey to Mainz, Germany.  Johan explains to Peter that he has invested in Johann Gensfleisch’s project.  He wants the lad to become Johann’s apprentice in order to help him succeed and to learn a new trade that will leave scribes obsolete.  Filled with doubts and misgivings Peter works with Johann on printing the Bible with equipment that fails more than it works.  He fixes several of the bugs although his mentor proves difficult to work for; the Church and the scribe guild oppose the devil’s creation; while their family warns father and son of the danger to all of them from this heresy.  Still they persevere until they eventually create the Gutenberg Bible, which is further condemned as not anywhere near the art of the scribes.

This remarkable historical fiction describes the obstacles in developing the movable type printing press.  Like A & E's Biography: 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium naming Gutenberg number one after five and half centuries of major impact (until the digital print ended its influence), Alix Christie pays homage to the invention that changed information flow to the masses.  Peter’s mixed feelings whether to print or not to print anchor the detailed fifteenth century drama with a human impact.  Although a romance feels unnecessary and even well written family dynamics that add understanding of the lead trio come across as intrusive; the audience will be enthralled with the fascinating printing press invention main storyline.

Harriet Klausner

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