PNBA Discovery : Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie
October 6, 2014
One of the authors who came to Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show was Alix Christie, a journalist and printer formerly of B. C. and now living in London. Her new book, Gutenberg’s Apprentice, covers the very origin of the printed word in Johann Gutenberg’s workshop in Mainz in the early 1450’s. Surprisingly, this moment in history seems to have gotten little attention from fiction writers, but Christie brings it to life. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Peter Schoeffer, who is, yes, Gutenberg’s apprentice. The cutthroat business dealings between merchants of the time, the guilds and their intrigue and secrecy, and the religious anxiety of the time due to the fall of Constantinople play a large part in the backdrop of the invention of the printing press. Convincingly, Christie describes Schoeffer’s personal change of attitude from that of proud scribe bristling at the cheapening of the sacred act of writing to an embrace of his new industry. Part of the book is told from his point of view as an old man, when some were bemoaning the proliferation of conspiracy theories, rhetoric, and the economic disruption made possible by a new technology. (Remind you of any other time?). Christie told us she had handled one of the few existing copies of the Gutenberg Bible (in Latin, since other translations were not allowed). Far from this damaging them, this is good for the bibles as they’re printed on vellum not paper.
I’m adding a giveaway copy to the collection so the wait would not be long if interested. The cover is particularly gorgeous.
Summary: An enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany–a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal. Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, the wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corruption- riddled, feud-plagued Mainz to meet “a most amazing man.” Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary–and, to some, blasphemous–method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg’s workshop, and he orders Peter to become Gutenberg’s apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the “darkest art.” As his skill grows, so too does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: printing copies of the Holy Bible. But when outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures–the generous Fust and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery. Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles in a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them all.