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Description - States of Plague: Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic by Alice Kaplan

States of Plague examines Albert Camus’s novel The Plague as a palimpsest of our own pandemic life, its account of the psychology and politics of quarantine uncannily relevant to our time.

One of the most discussed books of the COVID-19 crisis, Albert Camus’s classic novel The Plague has been a touchstone for readers over the past two years. As people were surrounded by terror and uncertainty, often separated from loved ones or unable to travel, many sought answers within the pages of Camus’s tale about an Algerian city gripped by an epidemic in 1947. People began to read it as a story about their own lives—a book to shed light on a global health crisis.

In thirteen linked chapters told in alternating voices, Alice Kaplan and Laura Marris hold the past and present of The Plague in conversation, discovering how the novel has reached people in our current moment.  Kaplan’s chapters explore the book’s tangled and vivid history, while Marris’s are drawn to the ecology of landscape and language. Through these pages, they find that their sense of Camus evolves under the force of a new reality, alongside the pressures of illness, recovery, concern, and care in their own lives. Kaplan herself is struggling with a case of covid as the book opens; as it closes, Marris receives her first vaccine shot. In between, they find aspects of Camus’s novel that once seemed merely literary spoke directly to their own fear and grief. They describe how they learned to contemplate the skies of a plague spring, to examine the body politic and the politics of immunity.

Both personal and eloquently written, States of Plague uncovers for us the mysterious way a great novel can imagine the world during a crisis and draw back the veil on our possible futures.

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