Disease and Pestilence Pay a Visit

Chevy Chase LibraryStaff Picks

Disease and Pestilence Pay a Visit

2018 was the centennial of the signing of the Armistice Agreement to end WWI and unquestionably, people who were living at that time were relieved that the war was over. After the war ended, however, there was another global threat—the Spanish Flu pandemic. Pre-Covid 19, I had assembled a couple of titles for a possible list of books that take place at the end of “the great war,” and coincided with the flu pandemic. Instead, I have here a list of five novels with a mix of health crises. Three of the novels take place during outbreaks of the bubonic plague (though not all set in medieval times), another title, the Spanish Flu rages in the background, and another title involves another epidemic based on the imagination of the author.

Outbreak by Davis Bunn
Does this sound familiar: The “powers that be” manipulate and cover up a catastrophe of global proportions.
Outbreak is an edge-of-your-seat read from one of Christian fiction's top authors, and makes you question what IS and what IS not.
Corruption and greed compel unscrupulous men to ignore a deadly threat. Here, it is up to a ragtag team lead by a university professor, to make sense of the crisis while dodging hitmen and unscrupulous people with power.

The Plague by Albert Camus
The surface story is about an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the Algerian coastal city of Oran in the early 1940s.
In this book, the plague resembles coronavirus in that it does not discriminate. Everyone is susceptible to catch it and die.
Pacing is not something I tend to notice in a novel, but I did in this one, it is outstanding. The pacing matches the descent into hell and the recovery into sunlight the refreshing sea air when the tide of the epidemic begins to ebb.

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
This was a magnificent effort from Dennis Lehane. He managed to do an outstanding job of capturing the time. I felt transported into the past via Mr. Peabody’s Way back machine. This book was full to the brim with rich period detail that not only captures time and place, but also the hearts and minds of the people. Set in the period around the end of World War I, the cast of characters are slowly developed with the historical significance of the city of Boston at the forefront. Lehane offers us a sense of the times, and they are not pretty. The two primary characters are Danny Coughlin, a Boston cop from a lineage of cops, and Luther Laurence, a poor black man. There is much in here about the condition of the working man, and it is startling, even to someone who has read some about the struggle of labor for decent treatment. Things were much worse than I’d imagined. Lehane employs a Dickensian lens that covers geography from Boston to Ohio to Tulsa, and includes Babe Ruth, the governor of Massachusetts to the lowliest criminal element. The author offers the reader a sense of how the citizens of Boston react to the police strike and a sense of the political turmoil of the time, that include Palmer raids, fear of Bolshevists, anarchists and immigrants, and how those fears were stoked for political gain. Sound familiar? Lehane does not intend to delve into political messages but this novel keeps one’s eye on events of OUR times.

Company of Liars by Karen Maintland
The Black Plague between 1348 and 1350 killed over 1.5 million people in England--over one-third of the population.
A Company of Liars a reimagining of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as the story of a group of nine strangers who travel together in an effort to escape the plague that is spreading death throughout the country. It is not “just” a story about travelers or pestilence, but rather a story about darkness, superstition, secrets and guilt. Each of the travelers harbors a secret. 

The Betrothed: A Tale of XVII Century Milan by Alessandro Manzoni

This is considered to be an Italian Classic. Manzoni's historical novel The Betrothed--although not much read today in the English-speaking world--is considered by many Italians to be the greatest novel written in their language. The blurb at the back of the novel states thus: "Two lovers must face tyrants, war, riots, plague and famine as they struggle to be together, in this teeming panorama of 17th century Italian life - the original historical novel." I think, that is a great summary of the entire book. But it has said hardly anything. The reader will literally walk the paths in the district of Lecco and lanes in the city of Milan of the 17th century. The reader will also live the significant events as the participant observer. Reading through the events of famine, the war, the riot in Milan and especially the plague is all like living through the events.