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David Grossman on Coronavirus as a ‘Formative Event’

The Plague Is a Formative Event. When It Fades, New Possibilities Will Emerge

When the coronavirus pandemic ends, some won’t wish to return to their former lives, David Grossman writes

By David Grossman

It’s bigger than us, the plague. It’s stronger than every flesh-and-blood enemy we’ve encountered, more powerful than every superhero we’ve conjured up in our imaginations and in the movies. Occasionally a bloodcurdling thought worms its way into the heart, that perhaps this time, in the war against it, we will lose, truly lose. A worldwide defeat. Like in the days of the “Spanish flu.” It’s a thought that’s immediately discarded, because how could we possibly lose? After all, we are 21st-century humanity! We are advanced, computerized, armed with countless weapons and means of destruction, protected with antibiotics, immunized… Yet nevertheless, something about it, about this plague, says that the rules of the game this time are different from what we’ve become accustomed to – so much so, in fact, that it can be said that for now, there are no rules. With dread we count hourly the sick and the dead in every corner of the world. Whereas the enemy pitted against us shows no signs of tiring or slowing down, while it harvests among us without interruption, and uses our bodies to multiply.

“A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away,” Albert Camus wrote in his novel “The Plague.” “But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away… [They] thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future?” (Translation by Stuart Gilbert) Read the full essay at Haaretz.

This essay is by Literary Affairs’s favorite Israeli author David Grossman. His To the End of the Land is a former Books in the Bag book club favorite. To read more about our current book club selections, visit our Books in the Bag page.

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