Book Notes — The Plague

In the current COVID crisis, I naturally wanted to pick up something related to the nature of pandemics. Not the technical aspects, but the human aspect of it. To satisfy my curiosity, I started reading about historical plagues, black death being one of them. Around that time, I stumble upon a Youtube review of this book. That review captured my imagination and I picked it up instantly.

It is about a City (Oran) where citizens are pretty occupied with day-to-day life chasing their dreams. And when Plague hits that place, it fundamentally alters the life of each citizen. It chronicles in detail, how moods, aspirations, relationships of everyday people in Oran changes. It was also interesting to read how different people react to the Plague differently i.e. how religious people view it, and how the doctors, journalists, criminals, etc.

I also couldn’t help realizing an interesting fact. This everyday life of Oran described is so similar to everyday life that we live in cities today. There are Cars, Trains, Telephones, Cafes, Restaurants, Theatres, Hospitals, Hotels, Lifts, Newspapers, Multi-story apartments. That is remarkable considering it was published in 1947. Even the behavior and aspirations of people are strikingly similar. Young people have left their elders to work in the city and earn money. They go to offices and work hard for 5 days, and then drink, party and enjoy on weekends. How less we have changed in the last 80 years :-)

These lines describing the city life going to stay with me for long —

“ The truth is everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Thir chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, ‘doing business.’ Naturally they don’t eschew such simple pleasures as love-making, seabathing, going to pictures. But, very sensibly, they reserve these pastimes for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible. In the evening, on leaving the office, they forgather, at an hour that never varies, in the cafes, stroll the same boulevard, or take the air on their balconies. The passions of the young are violentand short-lived; the vices of older men seldom range beyond an addiction to bowling, to banquets and ‘socials’, or clubs.”

Also it is important to see that viruses/bacteria never stop being around us, ready to pounce upon us, and the security of modern life will always remain a facade. Ending lines of ‘The Plague’ drives home this point.

“the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linenchests; that it bides its time in bed-rooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

Camus uses very simple language, and hence it is a very light read. Some of the scenes are very emotional and stirring. Overall I loved the book, it helped me better prepare emotionally about the things happening to all of us with Covid.

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