Reflection, Expression, Escapism: The Pandemic in Recent Literature

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Books are the mirror of history, for without them there would be no records of the past to share or changing ideas to convey. Books are affected by many events that have taken place throughout history from world wars to deadly pandemics, the latter of which we have experienced recently in our time, and which have shaped our lives and perspectives accordingly. This is reflected in the huge influence the coronavirus pandemic has had on the content of books that have been published recently, in terms of both fiction and non-fiction titles.

Non-fiction books related to the pandemic, especially books of personal reflections, have mostly been written by famous people and international writers. Those writers not only shared their own personal experiences, but also the common thoughts and feelings of wider society.

Where Hope Comes From by Nikita Gill is a clear example of this, with her popularity gained by sharing her poems on social media. In her poetry collection, Gill provides the reader with insight into the journey of finding hope in grief and despair by expressing her thoughts and her impressions on the long days of the lockdown. The poetry book collection is similar to a daily journal, with Gill sharing all her complexities, emotions, and longings for hope in times of fear and death.

Expressing thoughts and experiences of hardship during the coronavirus pandemic were also presented in Voices from the Pandemic by Eli Saslow. A journalist at the Washington Post, Saslow compiled several real stories from American citizens, some of whom had lost loved ones and others who had lost their jobs and become homeless as a result. Saslow interviewed these people to make their stories known to thousands of readers who had been in similar situations. The book represents the difficult circumstances that every citizen around the world has had to face and overcome in the last few years.

Writers did not only express their own emotions and views about the pandemic, but also crafted imaginative settings with fictional characters. Authors from all over the world chose to transform their thoughts into novels and fictional short stories with exciting storylines to escape from reality.

In Gary Shteyngart’s novel Our Country Friends, a group of friends escape town during the pandemic and move to a house in the countryside. In this book, Shteyngart represented the flight that many real people undertook out of crowded cities to more isolated places, believing they would find peace and safety away from the virus. The novel also draws on many important themes like friendship and familial connection, which were more important than ever during isolation, and which are highly represented in the story.

Mystery novels were also influenced by the pandemic as well. Crime stories set during the fast-paced early days of the pandemic were popular all over the world, one of the most notable being 56 Days by Catherine Ryan. This pandemic thriller revolves around a couple, Oliver and Ciara, who decide to move in together during the first total lockdown in Ireland to deepen their relationship. Soon enough, however, a body is found in their apartment and Oliver’s girlfriend is declared missing. The novel is a combination of a mystery and a psychological thriller, including several plot twists that keep the reader invested.

As for comic books, they were not excluded from this trend either. Along with Marvel’s superheroes, comics created new types of heroes to star in their graphic stories. Doctors, nurses, and ordinary people became superheroes in hundreds of issues, such as Chronicles of Covid, an anthology that collected a variety of different shorts including comics and stories, both realistic and fictional, of individuals who experienced the hard times of the pandemic alongside the emotional struggles we all faced. This comic anthology is one of many comic books and graphic novels to depict an aspect of the pandemic, with the wider trend geared towards educational texts, giving readers basic instructions on how to avoid catching Covid-19 and preventing it from spreading.

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic was a huge turning point for the entire world, as well as for the community of writers who branched out from their normal genres to transmit their thoughts, reflections, and imaginations about the pandemic onto paper. Their books will act as an important record to enable future generations to understand the huge influence the virus had on all aspects of our daily lives.

Words by Joyce Bou Charaa

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