Novel by philosopher Albert Camus, set in Oran, a town in Algeria, in the 1940s. Very relevant reading in the time of COVID-19: the novel tells of an epidemic of bubonic plague that hits Oran. The style is more philosophical rather than plot driven, and describes the reactions of society and how various people respond to the circumstances. In the beginning, some rats die and nobody thinks much of it, but soon a lot of people start dying and the town is closed off. Nobody can do much as the disease ravages the population. After many months of suffering, the disease suddenly goes away.
Rieux is a doctor and the main character, he thinks it’s his duty to do his job as best as he can. Tarrou is similarly a good-natured man, even though he’s a tourist, he decides it’s best to help and organizes a volunteer group, even if it means risk to his personal health. A priest turns to religion, but Rieux argues that there is no place for God during such immense suffering. Not everyone is so nice though. Rambert is a journalist and tries very hard to get out to be with his wife, but fails, and eventually Rieux convinces him that what he’s doing is selfish. They have discussions about the collective being more important than the individual during times of crisis.
There are definitely a lot of similarities between the novel and how society is currently handling the pandemic: it seems that philosophy doesn’t age. One thing that’s notably different is that lovers had no way of communicating, and there was some discussion about the agony of couples that are separated; thankfully this is not a problem now as we have the internet.
Initially I ordered the book in French but found the language too difficult (somewhat harder than L’Etranger) so I listened to the English audiobook while following the French text. The book contributed to Camus’ winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957 and lay down a lot of key ideas of existentialism. Sometimes the plague is treated as an abstract metaphor for some problem in society, like the rise of the Nazis in Germany, but in the current global situation it’s perfectly fine to take it as a literal plague.