‘In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions.’
– The Plague, Albert Camus
The story is set sometime in the 1940s, in the town of Oran – a large French port of the Algerian coast. The city is filled with dull business-like people who are too sophisticated and caught up in their modernity to at first take seriously the strange event of rats turning up dead at street corners and doorsteps.
This town has no rats, must be some kids playing silly pranks. Dead rats increase like a bad omen heralding doom, and people are strangely falling sick and winding up dead in the same pattern. The town must look into this but not take it too seriously because things like this don’t happen in Oran, they happen elsewhere and there is no reason to panic.
Dr Rieux, the central character – a town doctor and the first in touch with the sick and dying – is quick to catch on a sense of crisis but the town leadership is complacently in waiting until the numbers are impossible to ignore. But what do the mere
numbers of the dying mean to the living and unbereaved?
The town is shut down. It can happen to us; it is happening to us. Communications must adapt to the urgent – the only – task of survival. The meanings of relationships are changing by necessity. What does all this teach us about the meaning and experience of life?
Albert Camus’ The Plague is strangely apt for the times. In the midst of sickness, death, isolations, and lockdowns in the context of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, The Plague is increasingly getting reinvigorated attention as an important read to think about our collective condition today.
We had planned to read Mia Couto’s A River Called Time for our next meeting, but we have decided to bring in Camus’s novel for its profound relevance at this time.
Join us at our virtual meeting of the African Literature Book Club as we discuss this novel. Let’s think together about how this book helps us to reflect on our current condition – a global one and how we may specifically think about its relationship with Africa.
To make this interesting and personal, we encourage everyone who can join us at the meeting to pick a favorite quote from book with which they can discuss how they are experiencing the times.
We are looking forward to seeing you and listening to your important interventions at the next meeting.
Diekara Oloruntoba-Oju – African Literature Book Club Coordinator
Meeting via Zoom: Saturday 9th May, 15:00-16:30
eBook on iDiscover (Cambridge Uni members): https://bit.ly/39Xhvch
(also available on Audible)
Please sign up via our Eventbrite page to receive an invite to our Zoom meeting: https://bit.ly/3e0OcJ9