Review on Camus’ “The Plague”

11989The 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.



The Plague

By Albert Camus

Translated by Robin Buss

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780141185132




At the dawn of 21st century, science and technology have not only pervaded our everyday lives but they also let us enjoy their benefits on a greater scale. It was unimaginable in the past. Human beings spent a great deal of time in utilising scientific inventions. Almost everything has been turned into an electronic item such as electronic mail, electronic cigarette, e-book, e-newspaper, e-marketing, e-commerce etc. Indeed, our lives are surrounded by electronic devices.

On one hand, indeed, this transformation of hard objects into electric and soft form has made human being’s life very comfortable in a variety of ways. For instance, information or data, very hard to acquire in the past, now is only a click away from us. On the other hand, there are some drawbacks of electronisation process as well. It has victimised human feelings, emotions, relationships and interactions.

Since centuries, post offices used to function as a mail office, courier service provider, telegram office and bank as well. Now it has been replaced by nationwide money transfer service provider agencies. One may very easily receive/send amount through any nationwide money transfer service within minutes. However, the act does not offer us same joy when, in the past, postmen used to bring money order from our relatives from far flung areas of country. Reception of long-awaited money order used to bring a wave of delight among family members.

Now, we prefer to wish Eid greetings to family and friends by sending a common SMS by selecting all contacts with one click, without taking any effort. SMSs are sent to everyone and our feelings for “someone special” have faded away. In the past, we used to spend a considerable time in selecting cards to wish loved ones on Eid or birthdays. We also would wait for receiving such cards till Chand raat. All these activities, though tiring and time-taking, contained immense excitement, feelings and emotions which can never be replaced by technology usage.

At the present time traditional cigarette is being replaced by e-cigarette. Yet, there are few characteristics of traditional cigarette which distinguish it from electronic one. One cannot have a pleasure of arguing on sharing e-cigarette with friends. One can enjoy smoking e-cigarettes any time, yet joy of looking for match box or lighter when having a cigarette in one’s hand cannot be replaced. The adventure of trying very hard to find one’s brand during a journey cannot be replaced. Thus habitual smokers’ feelings are not satisfied with e-cigarette.

Access to international media had never been as easy as it is today. One can read every newspaper published in any nook and corner of the world. Yet, the joy of waiting for a hawker early in the morning, reading newspaper in winter sunshine, demanding newspaper pages from a person who is reading it is unparalleled. Such joys can never be attained by reading online newspaper.

Once upon a time, book lovers used to seek for a book very desperately. It was very hard to obtain copy of rare books, so authors and research scholars faced a great number of difficulties in acquiring required material. Now almost every book can effortlessly be accessed with a click from many internet resources. One can save, keep and maintain a well-stocked library of e-books in laptop, tablet or Ipad.

However, an e-book is unable to offer a chronic reader the smell of pages of a new book; one cannot have an authority of ownership on e-books. Moreover, it cannot be lent or borrowed. Real readers do not feel any association towards electronic books. When device falls to the ground accidentally, owner is more concerned about the device than books. One cannot keep e-book on his chest while sleeping. Last but not the least; a dry rose cannot be kept in an e-book.

If we keep depending on modern technology with such a high speed, very shortly we will also become a machine and feelings will diminish away like a smoke. I would like to end with Jaun Elia’s verse here:

Yahee rishton ka karkhana hai,

Eik machine aur us ke paas machine.

(This is a factory of relationships)

(One machine is accompanied by another machine)