This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
This week’s Summer Reads offering is quite the timely read from Canadian author Saleema Nawaz.
From the publisher:
How quickly he’d forgotten a fundamental truth: the closer you got to the heart of a calamity, the more resilience there was to be found.
This is the story of a handful of people who find themselves living through an unfolding catastrophe. Elliot is a first responder in New York, a man running from past failures and struggling to do the right thing. Emma is a pregnant singer preparing to headline a benefit concert for victims of the outbreak–all while questioning what kind of world her child is coming into. Owen is the author of a bestselling plague novel with eerie similarities to the real-life pandemic. As fact and fiction begin to blur, he must decide whether his lifelong instinct for self-preservation has been worth the cost.
As the novel moves back and forth in time, we discover these characters’ ties to one another and to those whose lives intersect with theirs, in an extraordinary web of connection and community that reveals none of us is ever truly alone. Linking them all is the mystery of the so-called ARAMIS Girl, a woman at the first infection site whose unknown identity and whereabouts cause a furor.
Written and revised between 2013 and 2019, and brilliantly told by an unforgettable chorus of voices, Saleema Nawaz’s glittering novel is a moving and hopeful meditation on what we owe to ourselves and to each other. It reminds us that disaster can bring out the best in people–and that coming together may be what saves us in the end.
Ummm, ok. You’re thinking “She’s reading a book about a pandemic. During a pandemic? She must be crazy”. Well, yeah, I am actually the person who re-watched Contaigon back in March when the pandemic was just in its early stages in Canada. And marvelled at how life was imitating (then, years-old) art.So, maybe a little crazy…
Then when I read about Nawaz’s Songs for the End of the World which was slated for a fall release but whose publisher had pushed the e-book launch to April, I wondered how much her story might mimic what was (is) going on in our world today. Turns out, VERY CLOSELY.
If I were not reading this in the time of coronavirus, I’d think the plot was a little far-fetched. Like a movie, but, that sort of thing cannot happen in real life, right? Wrong. Reading this book was like holding up a mirror to the world today. It was written over the course of 6 years, stating in 2013 and has obviously been rigorously researched, evidenced in the fact that so much of the story has actually ‘come true’ over the past few months. Strangely enough for Nawaz, one of her main characters is an author who has also written about a novel coronavirus a few years prior to the novel’s present day – he, like Nawaz, is living through his novel. At times, reading this feels a little bit (ok, very) surreal, I cannot imagine being Nawaz watching the last 6 months unfold. A prescient novel, indeed.
The book follows the lives of a number of characters whose lives are intertwined and it can be, at times, complex and challenging to follow the storylines which jump around in time. I think that because I read the e-book, it’s not as easy to flip to the front of the book where the timeline and “social web” are outlined. I’m a visual reader so it took me a few chapters to get my head around who was who and when but once I had, it made an even more compelling reason to read this book from start to finish in just a couple of sittings.
The detail of the research that went into this book is staggering. The characters are interesting and complex. The storyline is gripping (especially reading it in 2020). And, curiously, the outlook is actually more hopeful than you might expect, given the plot. Highly recommended. For now or later, depending on your own Covid anxiety levels.
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