Friday, March 6, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Published in the age of Ebola, SARS, swine flu, bird flu and measles, Station Eleven is a book in step with the current fears of reasonable people. Emily St. John Mandel has written a thoughtful and plausible dystopia in which nearly the entire population of the world is wiped out by a flu pandemic.   

The story begins in present day Toronto, where an unsuspecting audience watches an unsuspecting cast in a production of King Lear. When these people leave the shelter of the theater, they unknowingly enter a world that has been ravaged by the Georgian Flu in the space of a few hours, a world where people die suddenly -- in their cars, in planes, buses and trains, on sidewalks and streets. The few pockets of survivors are those who are sheltered in isolation at home for weeks until the televised news went off the air and they exhausted their supply of food and water. Then they start walking, for what purpose they are unsure. Some twenty years later, many of the survivors have banded into widely scattered tribes, troupes, communities and cults. The Traveling Symphony is a group of musicians and actors who travel up and down the eastern coast of Lake Michigan performing Shakespeare and classical music. One of their members, Kirsten, was a child actress in the King Lear production. She carries with her some possessions from her previous life, including a few graphic novels entitled Station Eleven. As the story toggles between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic times, the books and some other objects connect the past to the present. The new world is dangerous and filled with hardships. People survive by scavenging from abandoned houses and stores, hunting wildlife and stealing from one another. Mistrust is the prevailing attitude and with good reason. The Georgian flu, like flus and plagues before it, was an equal opportunity disease, striking down rich and poor, young and old alike.  But in the post-pandemic world, survival of the fittest is the rule of life. After a particularly difficult journey, the Symphony reaches its destination and finds a small glimmer of hope for the future.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is ultimately a tale of the survival of ordinary people who adapt to extraordinary circumstances.