ALIX CHRISTIE / Gutenberg's Apprentice / Booksmith at Arion Press
Meet novelist Alix Christie at the Bay Area site that inspired
her childhood passion for metal type,
the M & H foundry now run by Arion Press.
Before there was Zuckerberg there was Gutenberg. Alix Christie plunges us into the world of a more than 500-year-old technological revolution that bears some startling similarities to our own digital transformation.
The year is 1450, and Peter Schoeffer, an ambitious young scribe, is called back from Paris to Mainz, his hometown on the Rhine. There he is unwillingly thrust into a workshop financed by his foster father, the forward-looking merchant Johann Fust. It is a strange, dark place run by a driven master named Johann Gutenberg, its purpose the manufacture of books in a new – and to some, blasphemous – way: with a secret invention known as a printing press.
It is a period of great ferment in a turbulent Holy Roman Empire: Newly wealthy merchants in their Kaufhaus are angling for power; a corrupt Archbishop duels with the Pope; scribes copy both religious and secular texts while priests milk a deeply religious populace for indulgences. Against this backdrop, Schoeffer finds himself torn between two father-figures, between resentment and grudging love for a master both brilliant and stormy, and between hiding or revealing this shocking invention from the woman he loves. As he moves from reluctant apprentice to overseer of a book that will change the world, Peter must steer the Bible and the crew of men creating it through a cataclysmic time, while battling to prevail against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, none greater than the crushing power of the Catholic Church.
Like all of us today, Peter Schoeffer straddles an unnerving and exhilarating fissure between the old ways and the new. At its heart, GUTENBERG’S APPRENTICE is both a story about loyalty, betrayal and the price of true human greatness, and a parable of technological transformation.
Alix Christie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and is an author, journalist and letterpress printer. She learned the craft of letterpress printing as an apprentice to two master California printers, including her grandfather, the foreman of the last hot type foundry in San Francisco, Mackenzie & Harris, which continues as the nation's last commercial foundry, operating in the Presidio as part of Arion Press. Alix owns and operates a 1910 Chandler & Price letterpress. Christie earned her MFA from St Mary’s College, where she studied under Michael Chabon and Susan Straight. She currently lives in London, where she reviews books and arts for The Economist. GUTENBERG’S APPRENTICE is her first novel.