The book under review is a novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus, the second youngest author to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. The book has been translated by Robin Buss who has translated several works from French. Tony Judt, a teacher of French Literature at New York University, has written afterword.
The story is set in Oran, a coastal Algerian town, which comes in grip of a deadly plague. The disease starts from rats and extends its grip on human beings. With a steady rise in death toll people become afraid and panicky. It becomes clear that they are dealing with an epidemic. Local administration declares a state of plague.
In such situation, everyone reacts differently to the plague. Dr. Rieux, protagonist of the novel, decides to fight the plague and carry out his job as a doctor. Rambert, a journalist who is initially desperate to escape the town, eventually, overcome his personal feelings and become part of a collective suffering community. Tarrou, a young and moralist citizen, determines to work for the community out of moralist perspective. Cottard, a criminal, accepts the plague first and thinks that health trams are wastage of town. Finally all these characters join Rieux’s health team as volunteers.
With city gates closed, people are in state of exile and separation. They resort to violence with guard at the gates. Church holds a men’s mass to offer a collective prayer. With rise in number of deaths, people start spending individual life to prevent adoption of epidemic. They are afraid of each other. Plague becomes a matter of responsibility for few and majority suggests bending knees before it. Dr. Rieux and his team are determined to fight.
In a short span of six months, plague covers everything. People are buried in groups, coffins become short. Living people’s attention is diverted from burials to more important issues such as food supply etc. Number of victims rises far than capacity of cemetery. In sum, everything is defined in context of plague now.
Dr. Rieux and health team are exhausted because of excessive work. Number of death remains still which is called its ceiling. People are dying quick death now with pulmonary infection. Tarrou believes that this societal plague must be fought with concentration. “It is more difficult” he states “to save people from getting infected than curing them. Former act is more tiring that’s why all health teams look more exhausted. One must refuse to be on the side of pestilence and should be on the side of victim”. There is a decline in disease by Christmas and town takes its course.
The plague is weakening. It has embedded such a deep scepticism in peoples’ lives that they cannot accept thought of liberation from it. Eventually, after almost a year, figures fall low and, finally, the gates are opened. People dance and rejoice in the squares.
Written shortly after World War II, the novel is a visceral depiction of Nazi Germany’s occupation of France. It’s the story of a seemingly uncontrollable evil that engulfs the whole society. Everyone responds in his own way; some seek blame and revenge, some resign themselves to the fate, however, few determine to resist it with available resources.
Though subject of the novel is political but it is written in an apolitical way for which author was criticised at the time of publication. Later on, many literary critics applauded Camus to present such a vital issue in a stunning way like this. Overall, it’s a story of responsibility, justice, exile, separation, agony, revenge and, in the last but not the least, remaining optimist even in the time of a great calamity.
Main point of the story is fighting against evil and never surrendering before it. Novel’s protagonist Dr. Rieux remarks at one point, “You have to be mad, blind or coward to resign yourself to the plague”. On another occasion Tarrou says “Societal plague must be thought with concentration. It is more difficult to save people from getting infected than curing them. Former act is more tiring that’s why all health teams look more exhausted. One must refuse to be on the side of pestilence and should be on the side of victim.
Since the novel resembles a great deal with present situation in Pakistan in the context of existence of many social evils in the country; and specially how to fight them. The book is highly recommended to all the readers. Translation is very beautiful and one can enjoy reading it fluently.
By Albert Camus
Translated by Robin Buss