A transporting new historical novel from the acclaimed author of Woodsburner.
In late-eighteenth-century Ireland, accidental stargazer Caroline Ainsworth learns that her life is not what it seems when her father, Arthur, throws himself from his rooftop observatory. He has chosen death over a darkened life, gone blind from staring at the sun in his obsessive hunt for an unknown planet near Mercury. Caroline had often assisted her father with his observations; when astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, she watched helplessly as unremitting jealousy drove Arthur to madness.
Grief-stricken, Caroline at first abandons the vain search, leaves Ireland for London, and tries to forget her love for Finnegan O’Siodha, the tinkering blacksmith who was helping her father build a massive telescope larger than Herschel’s own. But she later discovers that her father has left her more than the wreck of an unfinished telescope: his cryptic atlas holds the secret to finding a new world at the edge of the sky. As Caroline reluctantly resumes the search and confronts her longing for Finnegan, Ireland is swept into rebellion, and the lovers are plunged into its violence.
This is a novel of the obsessions of the age—scientific inquiry, geographic discovery, political reformation—but above all astronomy, the mapping of the solar system, and beyond. It is a novel of the quest for knowledge and also—just as importantly—for human connection. The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter is rich, far-reaching, and unforgettable.
LIBRARY JOURNAL * Starred Review
"For Arthur Ainsworth, the Great Comet of 1744 marked an end and a beginning: the end of his family, killed by smallpox, and the launch of a life spent scouring the heavens in search of celestial bodies to name after his loved ones, and searching for connections. Oddly enough, it is the distant stars that bring him a “family”: an orphaned girl, both daughter and assistant, who carries on his work; a talented blacksmith who builds his telescope; and even his rival William Herschel, who discovered and named the planet that Ainsworth sought for his own memorializing. Pipkin’s (Woodsburner) exquisitely crafted historical novel offers readers many things: a sensitive recounting of Ireland’s travails as its impoverished populace struggles to feed and clothe itself, a riveting description of the passion of discovery in the late 18th century, and a brilliant examination of such age-old themes as the longing for permanence and belonging. VERDICT A pleasurable read for lovers of historical fiction and for those longing for reassurance that following one’s passion does indeed lead to healing and belonging."—Cynthia Johnson
“Pipkin's panoramic second novel unfurls a vista of scientific advances and social unraveling as the 18th century nears its close. . . . a fascinating look at the particular manias and obsessions of those who study the stars amid turmoil on Earth.”
"In this lovely, meditative historical novel about the daughter of an eighteenth-century stargazer, Pipkin explores the conundrum astronomers face when confronted by an endless universe and humanity’s near insignificance in comparison. The story follows several characters—all of them stars in their own galaxies—in multiple plotlines . . . William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, and his sister . . . the 1798 Irish Rebellion; telescope-making and star-mapping; a fictitious family of Ainsworths living in Ireland; and the adoption of a foundling. This multitude of sprawling parallel plots and descriptive historical details, along with the large cast of seemingly unrelated characters, does help bring home the author’s point that life and astronomy are made up of endless searches among diverse possibilities. . . "— Jen Baker
Advance Praise for The Blind Astronomer's Daughter
Sena Jeter Naslund
author of Ahab's Wife and The Fountain of St. James Court, or Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman.
"In The Blind Astronomer's Daughter, John Pipkin, one of our most accomplished novelists, gives us a universe of stars, comets, and planets half-perceived through crude 18th century telescopes and half-deduced through mathematics; not computers, but the brains of women perform the calculations. Utilizing history and imagination, Pipkin creates two complex and touching women, both called Caroline, who love and serve two male astronomers--one is Caroline's father and the other is the second Caroline's brother. Comet-like, a boy genius of compassion and mechanics streaks across their lives. All Pipkin's characters are formed by both their innate gifts and a universe flawed by violence and injustice based on gender, social class, religion, and nationality. Pipkin's stylistic brilliance holds all these elements together with a force as effective and inclusive as gravity."