States of Plague

Alice Yaeger Kaplan


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The University of Chicago Press
31 October 2022
ISBN: 9780226815534
152 pages

From the publisher

States of Plague examines Albert Camus's novel as a palimpsest of pandemic life, an uncannily relevant account of the psychology and politics of a public health crisis.

As one of the most discussed books of the COVID-19 crisis, Albert Camus's classic novel The Plague has become a new kind of literary touchstone. Surrounded by terror and uncertainty, often separated from loved ones or unable to travel, readers sought answers within the pages of Camus's 1947 tale about an Algerian city gripped by an epidemic. Many found in it a story about their own lives-a book to shed light on a global health crisis.

In thirteen linked chapters told in alternating voices, Alice Kaplan and Laura Marris hold the past and present of The Plague in conversation, discovering how the novel has reached people in their current moment. Kaplan's chapters explore the book's tangled and vivid history, while Marris's are drawn to the ecology of landscape and language. Through these pages, they find that their sense of Camus evolves under the force of a new reality, alongside the pressures of illness, recovery, concern, and care in their own lives. Along the way, Kaplan and Marris examine how the novel's original allegory might resonate for a new generation of readers who have experienced a global pandemic. They describe how they learned to contemplate the skies of a plague spring, to examine the body politic and the politics of immunity.

Both personal and eloquently written, States of Plague uncovers for us the mysterious way a novel can imagine the world during a crisis and draw back the veil on other possible futures.