Oh God, this book….this wonderful, wonderful book.
The present-day world is crumbling as a deadly flu pandemic spreads like wild-fire and kills its victims in under 48 hours. Within weeks the entirety of modern civilization has been reduced to buildings full of corpses and eternal traffic jams of driverless cars.
Air travel is history, satellites go down, the internet disappears, lights go out, and the world is plunged into the literal dark ages. So why is this wonderful?
Mandel takes what could be just another post-apocalyptic narrative and turns it on its head. We don’t just get post-apocalypse, we get apocalypse now. We spend time in the first hours, days, and weeks of the disaster, living with characters who are surviving, hiding, and dying.
We jump from present to future to past and back again throughout the book, following the life of a child-actor with minimal memory of the time before, and a jack-of-all trades and a business man who remember everything. Their lives have all been entwined by a prematurely dead actor whose story helps juxtapose the beauty and loss of the then and now.
Mandel’s greatest triumph in this book (in my opinion) is her ability to wrench sorrow and grief out of the reader without turning morose and depressing. She accurately and acutely describes the horror, fear and plight of individuals stranded in airports thousands of miles from home with no way to get out, of people not knowing what happened to their loved ones, of death and loss, and the knowledge that this disaster will not get better. Things will not go back to being ‘normal.’ She deals head-on with the shock and the acceptance of what to do once the worst is over, and the echoing dysfunction of living through that trauma, but this book isn’t about surviving the worst; this book is about living beyond the worst. Simple survival isn’t enough for Mandel, as her traveling symphony declares “survival is insufficient” as it goes from village to village bringing much needed entertainment and beauty to the harsh lives of those who are left.
Survival is only the beginning, and her story weaves in the hope, relationships, life, and beauty that make a life worth living no matter what the circumstances.