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While the coronavirus has motivated people from all over the globe to get their hands on hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there is another, more surprising, commodity on the rise: Albert Camus’ novel The Plague.
Camus’ 1947 masterpiece is set in the small town of Oran, Algeria, where the plague is killing rats in the streets. When the disease is discovered to have been transferred to humans, the townspeople are completely overtaken with hysteria and the town is put under lockdown.
Japan has witnessed a steep incline in the number of copies the book has sold nationwide. The book sales are in direct proportion to the number of people who have fallen victim to the contagion. Orders “are apparently up by seven to eight times their usual number, and the publisher has decided to print an additional 4,000 copies to try to meet demand.”
The Plague is a great book—and Camus is one of my favorite authors—but I cannot help but think there are those who have a propensity to romanticize catastrophe. This same kind of behavior happened when Trump was first elected president in 2016. I was working at a small bookshop in Washington D.C. at the time, and the two books that soared in sales were Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984.
Trump’s America in 2020 has absolutely no semblance to either of those wonderful works, but some cannot help the temptation to believe they are living in the new Third Reich. It is almost like some actually want the ability to say they lived through the worst period in human history. It’s an unhelpful way of looking at the world, and it’s these same individuals have used social media as a beacon for fearmongering.
The coronavirus certainly presents unique challenges—some of which we have never had to face before—but it is incumbent upon each one of us to look out for one another and take the necessary precautions. I do not believe that this moment is beyond our capacity to solve.
If you haven't read The Plague, this is your chance to read it—it’s a beautiful work that addresses the fear and resilience of the human condition. It let's us know that whatever happens, we will get through this.
Read some books in your moments of social distancing, and consider Camus’ words: “What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” The coronavirus is not the end of civilization.