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Op-Ed: Reading ‘The Plague’ while living through a pandemic

I started reading Albert Camus' novel in late March. It has an uncanny resonance with America's crises in 2020.
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Kevin C. Pyle is an artist and illustrator and the author of several graphic novels and nonfiction books, including “Migrant: Stories of Hope and Resilience.”

The novel is set in Oran, Algeria, a place more picturesque than where I'm living during the coronavirus pandemic.
There's a strange pleasure in drawing comparisons from the book to my own experiences, like waiting in grocery store lines.
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Early on in the book, city officials are reluctant to use the word plague, fearing it would set off demands for a response.
Often, events in the book aligned with the reality outside my window, like when the virus got into my neighbor's house.
One difference is we have cellphones to connect us. A friend working in the ICU had to buy her own protective equipment.

Camus imagines cemeteries filling up with the dead. We could see refrigerated trucks storing bodies on the news.
Just as in the novel, entire families had to be quarantined if one person contracted the coronavirus.
With its emphasis on alienation and powerlessness, the novel is often seen as a metaphor for living under fascism.

Read through a political lens, the novel captures the disbelief that this could happen here in America.
The novel's hero, Dr. Rieux, and his comrades, doggedly resist the disease as if it were a repressive regime.
We may soon be called on to defend our democracy just as we have had to defend ourselves against the virus.

Kevin C. Pyle / For The Times


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