The Plague ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Plague book cover 2
The Plague
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Oran is a large French port on the Algerian coast (Northern Africa) with a population of 200,000. The Plague by French writer Albert Camus is a novel (a fictional account) of a plague that inexplicably strikes Oran in the 1940s. It begins with an influx of dead and dying rats into the city that nobody understands. The rats are found everywhere, in the streets, on the stairs in buildings, in private homes.  

Rats, of course, have fleas, and the fleas bite people and spread disease. The plague (pneumonic or bubonic) is an especially nasty disease that usually leads to agonizing death. As the death toll mounts every day, Oran has no choice but to close itself off from the rest of the world. Nobody can leave the town and nobody can enter. (How this is accomplished is not explained.)

The town is understandably thrown into a panic. How does a town quarantine the sick from the well? How can the sick be cared for with a limited number of people to help? How does the town keep people who might be infected from escaping the town? How can people in the town communicate with the outside world since letters might be infected with the disease? How long will the plague last? Is there any reason to hope the plague will go away as unexpectedly as it arrived? How much help can the town expect from the outside world? How can the people of the town be expected to carry on in the face of such awfulness?

Dr. Bernard Rieux is the main character in The Plague and the narrator of the story. His life every day is a living hell. He stands by helplessly as his friends and neighbors die of the disease. People look to him for answers he doesn’t have. He’s an unassuming man not given to heroics. His wife is ill (with something other than the plague) and in a sanitorium in another location.   

The people of the town behave the way people usually do in a crisis. There are acts of bravery and sacrifice, while many people in the town try to enjoy themselves any way they can, because who knows who will be the next to go? One man plots his escape from the town to return to his lost love. Another man is happy, somehow, for the plague and thrives during the epidemic. Others go the fatalistic, religious route, believing the plague is a judgment from heaven. Some of the very good people die from the disease, while some of the bad people go unscathed. Isn’t that always the way?  

The Plague, first published in 1947, is one of the most celebrated novels of the twentieth century. It’s a timeless and relevant story that might be set in any country in any time. It’s not always easy to read. Not for the faint of heart. After you’ve read it, you’ll feel like you’ve been to hell and back.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp




Fatherland ~ A Capsule Book Review

Fatherland book cover

~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Imagine that Germany has won World War II. The Third Reich has absorbed many countries and extends all the way to the Caspian Sea. Berlin is the largest city in the world with ten million people, filled with magnificent monuments and buildings. German military might has never been equaled anywhere in the world. Adolf Hitler is 75 years old. He is revered as a God. His birthday is a national holiday called Reichstag. This is the “alternate history” premise of Fatherland, a novel by Robert Harris.

Xavier March is the principal character of Fatherland. He is a police inspector. Though a member of the “establishment,” he is a less-than-enthusiastic party man. He is always under suspicion. His ex-wife and his ten-year old son have both denounced him.

When the body of a high-ranking Nazi, Josef Buhler, is found on the banks of the Havre River outside Berlin, the plot is set in motion. As Xavier March investigates the death of Josef Buhler, he uncovers a conspiracy: Nazi Party officials are systematically being murdered. What do these men know, what did they see, and why are they being “removed?” Xavier March is the perfect police investigator to find out the answers because he isn’t a very good party member anyway. A truly loyal investigator would scuttle what he discovers and make sure the world never knows.

Divorced as he is, Xavier March needs a love interest. This is where Charlotte “Charlie” Maguire enters the scene. She is an American journalist. She and Xavier March make the romantic perfect pair to investigate the mystery. After many twists and turns, the two make a startling discovery: the Nazis who are being murdered all attended the Wannsee Conference in 1942, in which the “Final Solution” of the Jews was planned. The world doesn’t know about the Final Solution. It is a closely guarded secret that was never supposed to be made public.

Fatherland by Robert Harris is a (rather tedious at times) detective story (not exactly Agatha Christie, though). We have bad Nazis doing terrible things. (Are there ever any good Nazis?) We have an unseen Adolf Hitler, adored by his people. His birthday is a national holiday lasting several days. Our main character, Xavier March, is an individualist, and we know that individualism doesn’t go over very well with Nazis. Our message to him is this: Get out of Nazi Germany if you want to go on living.

The thing I liked best about Fatherland is the unreal quality of Nazi Germany having won the war and lording it over the whole world. In the alternative reality of Fatherland, Berlin is unequaled anywhere in the world for splendor and magnificence. In reading Fatherland, I was reminded of another alternate-history story, The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth, in which right-winger and Nazi appeaser Charles Lindberg becomes President of the United States in 1940, meaning that America never enters the war. After Lindbergh screws up the entire country, the lefties move in and save the day, however. This is truly alternate reality.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp